Grinde guides USF to sixth straight win in men's hoops

SIOUX FALLS – Chase Grinde scored 16 points to lead five players in double-digits as the University of Sioux Falls Men's Basketball (13-3, 9-1 NSIC) recorded a sixth consecutive win with a 74-59 decision against Concordia St. Paul (6-8, 4-6 NSIC) on Saturday (Jan. 11) in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action at the Stewart Center.

As a result, USF continued to control the lead at the top of the NSIC with a 9-1 record, which is also the best league mark by a Cougars team in the DII program era. At 13-3 overall, USF is also off to the program's best start in the DII era.

Grinde hit 7-of-10 field goals and knocked down a three for his 16 points. He also had six rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. He registered his 15th career-double-digit scoring game with his eighth this season. Freshman guard Jack Thompson continued his strong play with 12 points, three rebounds, a steal and assist in 23 minutes on the floor. He was 4-of-8 from the floor and 4-of-5 at the foul line as he recorded his eighth double-digit scoring game this season. USF, which is 2-0 when five players have reached double-digits, had strong game from Austin Slater with 11 points and nine rebounds and Teathloach Pal with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. Senior captain Devin Green supplied 10 points for a second straight night. Pal now has 14 career games in double-digit points while Green has 11 and Slater 10.

One of the clear attributes of this USF team is the balance on a nightly basis, which is not lost on USF Head Coach Chris Johnson, who has 208 career wins at USF and 224 overall.

"It is amazing how these guys stick together and love to play together. It shows on the floor each night. They are hard-working, unselfish guys who just want to win. They give everything they have and are committed to finding ways to improve," added Johnson, whose team will go to North Dakota next weekend to face U-Mary on Friday, Jan. 17 and Minot State on Saturday, Jan. 18.

Against CSP, which had won four straight games, the Cougars worked through some first half scoring and foul issues to dominate the second half. After the score was tied at 24 at the break, USF outscored CSP, 50-35, to sweep the season series for the fourth straight year. USF has improved their overall series mark to 19-6 against the Golden Bears with eight straight wins.

The Cougars hit just 9-of-29 shots for 31 percent in the first half, which included 1-of-9 shooting from three-point range. However, the home-standing Cougars turned it around after the halftime break, when they made 18-of-28 field goals for 64.3 percent. In the last two games, USF has made 33-of-49 field goals for 67.3 percent in the second half when they have outscored opponents, 44.5-to-31.5 points per game.

With that sizzling shooting effort in the second half against CSP, the Cougars finished 27-of-57 for 47.4 percent as they out-shot their opponent for a fourth straight game.

CSP, which was 9-of-22 for 40.9 percent in the first half and made 4-of-9 from three, finished 22-of-54 for 40.7 percent. They connected on 7-of-22 from deep for 31.8 percent. While they had a 7-to-2 margin in made threes, the Cougars had more field goals overall, 27-to-22, and more free throws, 18-to-8. In addition, USF's size and strength produced a commanding 46-to-24 edge of points in the paint. As part of their work inside, USF had a 15-6 mark in second chance points.

Defense has been the name of the game for the Cougars, which rank fourth in the NSIC in scoring defense. Tonight, they forced 19 turnovers with just 10 themselves. USF recorded seven steals against the Golden Bear and has seven or more steals 10 times in 16 games. USF also held an opponent under 41 percent from the field for the ninth time this season.

Game Recap --
The Cougars grabbed an early 9-6 advantage after Pal scored inside at the 14:10 mark. After CSP cut the lead to 11-9 (12:14, 1st), the Cougars moved the edge back to 14-9 on a Grinde basket. USF led 23-17 after a Slater free throw with 4:07 to play. Then USF, which was hurt by Thompson picking up his second foul, had a three-minute scoring drought until Troy Houghton made a foul shot with 41 seconds left until halftime. But that shot was needed for USF to forge a 24-24 tie at the break. Grinde led USF with eight points.

But for the league leaders, the second half and finishing games has become part of their identity. In the second half, they took control as Pal for a 30-26 lead over CSP with 17:29 to play. From that point, USF had an 18-8 run as they built a 48-34 cushion over CSP after Trevon Adams hit a three and Slater had a dunk (10:56).
Later, Slater scored inside for a 55-39 lead – their largest of the game – at the 8:33 mark.

CSP was able to cut the lead to 10 at 55-45 with 7:27 on the clock but USF had the answer. Pal scored inside and then hit two foul shots plus another in the paint field goal as the Cougars moved the margin to 60-45 (6:06).

From that point, CSP was able to close within nine at 61-52 but just 3:38 remained and the Cougars again responded. They scored five straight points for a 14-point lead (66-52, 2:37) after two straight baskets by Green and the issue was decided as the Cougars continued to maintain a lead at the top of the NSIC.