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Scott Kohne has never settled for anything less than his best. His influence has spread throughout an entire men's basketball program that has its sights on “winning championships.” As in plural.
Kohne lifted Saint Francis out of sure sorrow in its home regular-season finale and helped deliver a dramatic 62-60 victory over Huntington in Crossroads League action Tuesday in front of 1,187 fans at the Hutzell Athletic Center.
“Scott's been making big plays for three years,” Cougars coach Chad LaCross said. “What an unbelievable play.”
Trailing 60-59 with 1.7 seconds remaining, Kohne took an inbound pass from Austin Fox, spun and lofted a three-pointer that hit nothing but net. It was only the third three-pointer the senior center has made this season.
“I thought it was going to be an air ball,” LaCross admitted afterward.
You can't fault LaCross for initially being skeptical. People have been that way toward Kohne throughout his career. But through sheer will, he continually exceeds little expectations with tremendous achievements. It's been that way since his days at Bishop Dwenger High School, where he helped the Saints to 32 victories and a sectional title over his final two seasons.
“His work ethic in the summers has put him in position to be one of the best players in the country,” LaCross said.
That statement is accurate, but remarkable, given where Kohne has come from.
Many scratched their heads when former Saint Francis coach Jeff Rekeweg offered a scholarship to the rail-thin Bishop Dwenger center. Those scratches seemed justified as Kohne played in just 46 minutes during his first year with the Cougars (20-9, 12-5 CL). When Saint Francis got to the 2012 NAIA Division II National Tournament during Kohne's sophomore season, few expected him to be dominant. But he was.
He opened the tournament with consecutive double doubles against some of the nation's best teams, and the first chapter of his legendary story was written.
“He's tough to guard,” LaCross said. “If you don't double him, he'll make you pay.”
Tuesday's dramatic play was drawn up with the 2013 All-American in mind, but LaCross didn't think Kohne would be the game saver. See a theme here?
“We wanted to set a double back screen for Scott to try and free him up,” LaCross explained. “But I thought if anything, we'd get (Josh Hogan) at the top of the key.”
That would've been a good call; after all, Hogan and freshman guard Kegan Comer (18 points each) both had more productive games than Kohne, who had struggled (scoring eight points before his final shot) against Huntington's 6-foot-10 Alec Peterson.
But Kohne doesn't settle.
The Foresters defense ran Kohne clear out of bounds before he fought his way back to the corner and called for the ball. The shot had immediate ramifications and, more critically, a long-term impact.
Had the Cougars lost Tuesday, their chances of making the NAIA National Tournament would've looked bleak at best. Saint Francis would've been tied for fourth in the conference with Bethel (22-7, 11-6), which lost to Taylor on Tuesday. But with the win, Saint Francis is in a three-way tie with Huntington (23-6, 12-5) and Marian (16-6, 12-5) for second.
Marian closes its regular season Saturday by hosting league champion Indiana Wesleyan, while Saint Francis goes to Goshen (5-24, 2-15) and Huntington hosts Taylor (11-17, 5-12). A real possibility is that Huntington and Saint Francis will tie for second place, but the Cougars hold the tiebreaker because of their win at Indiana Wesleyan last month.
A runner-up finish in what many regard as the nation's best NAIA conference almost assures the Cougars a berth in the national tournament, provided they take care of business at Goshen and win at least one game in the Crossroads League Tournament.
In 1.7 seconds, Kohne altered the entire perspective of this program and its season.
“We're going to miss him, no question,” LaCross said. “But if you wrote that up, as far as your last play, your last regular-season home game, what else would you do?”
You wouldn't expect Kohne to settle for anything less than a great ending.