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Magical season comes to an end

March 19th, 2009

The John Carroll University men’s basketball team’s historic season came to a bittersweet end Friday night. The Blue Streaks fell to Guilford College 78-73 before a sold-out DeCarlo Varsity Center in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak, the longest by any team in JCU history. It was also the first home loss of the season for the Blue Streaks.Although the loss signaled the end of this season, JCU players were not totally crushed by the defeat, realizing that they had an extremely talented team and they’ll be a force to be dealt with in the near future.“With all the guys we have coming back next year, we’ll have the ability to potentially go further next year, but we’ll never win 21 games in a row,” said junior Rudy Kirbus.Prior to the NCAA tournament, JCU captured the Ohio Athletic Conference regular season and conference tournament championships.JCU knocked off Capital University over Spring Break, avenging one of their two OAC losses, to capture the tournament crown. The victory was a thriller with the Blue Streaks coming from behind.Kirbus, who had struggled from long range all game, hit a go-ahead  shot from his favorite spot on the court without hesitation, giving JCU an 87-85 lead in the game’s final seconds.After a missed Crusader shot, Kirbus made it a two-possession game, making free-throws with just 19 seconds left. Capital would score again, but still come up short as JCU won 90-87, capturing their first conference tournament championship since 2004.Junior point guard Chris Zajac was named to the all-tournament team and sophomore Maurice Haynes was named tournament Most Valuable Player. The win gave the Blue Streaks an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament and a No. 1 seed for their region.The Blue Streaks tipped off the NCAA Tournament against Medaille College from New York.Medaille wasn’t the best team, but they played hard and refused to let JCU put them away for good.  The Blue Streaks turned to their freshmen, for some help in the scoring column.With Haynes in foul trouble, freshman center Matt Crozier stepped up with 19 points and ten rebounds. Freshman point guard Corey Shontz added 14 points while committing zero turnovers.Haynes, Kirbus and Zajac backed up the efforts with 11, 13 and 12 points, respectively. JCU held on for a 90-79 victory and advanced to the second round with a chance to avenge an early season loss.The Carnegie Mellon Tartans of Pittsburgh, Pa. had already defeated JCU back in November, 81-79.  CMU was highly ranked in the nation at the time and it was a game in which many Blue Streaks felt they realized they had a bit more potential than they may have predicted prior to the season.The Blue Streaks had a lead halfway through the second half, but in those final ten minutes, the JCU offense went completely cold as they scored just 11 points the rest of the way and the Tartans would claw their way back into it.CMU point guard Corey O’Rourke was fouled on a drive with just 15 seconds remaining and he stepped to the line and knocked down both attempts to tie the game at 74.JCU head coach Mike Moran elected not to call a timeout and Zajac brought the ball down looking to get it into the hands of Kirbus for the last shot. After a dribble-handoff, Kirbus drove toward the hoop but was stopped by two Tartan defenders and forced to kick it back out to Zajac.With just seconds left, Zajac drove left from the top of the key, stopped, faded back releasing the ball over two defenders and sent it through the nylon with just three-tenths of a second showing on the clock, sending the Blue Streaks to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years.JCU was then faced with Guilford College from Greensboro, N.C. in the Sweet 16.Although most basketball fans were hoping for a rematch in the Elite Eight between JCU and Capital for the right to play in the Final Four in Salem, Va., fate would have it a different way as both teams had their season end hours apart on the same floor.Things got off to a good start when junior Tyler Kirsch hit two three pointers off the bat and Haynes made his first three shot attempts and JCU grabbed a 17-13 lead.However, that would be as sweet as the round of 16 would be for the No. 10 team in the nation.  Guilford went on an 11-0 run from there and JCU would never get the lead back.  After falling behind by as many as 14, JCU came back in the second half and refused to go away.However, every time it seemed like JCU was about to regain control of the game, Guilford would respond with a jumper in the lane or a layup by six-foot-ten center Tyler Sanborn.Junior Brian Dandrea’s three-pointer with 19 seconds left made it a two-point game, but Guilford would make all their free throw attempts en route to ending an unforgettable Blue Streaks season.Guilford was led by Sanborn’s 23 points and 19 rebounds along with 21 points from point guard Rhett Bonner. JCU had four players in double figures, with Kirsch leading the way with 14, Shontz with 12, and Haynes and Crozier with 10 each.In a locker room filled with disappointment and sadness after the game, coach Mike Moran perhaps threw out the best word to describe this team.“You guys are overachievers, all of you,” he said.For a team that had only three returning players who had seen significant playing time in their careers and dressed six freshmen for every game, overachievers is the perfect word to describe the OAC champions, winners of 21 straight games, a top-ten national ranking, and a trip to the Sweet 16.JCU will again make a run at the national title next season. Other than senior Alex Koltslov, the entire roster will be back intact.“Alex’s leadership and what he meant to this team cannot be emphasized enough,” said Danrea.”It’s not something that can be replaced.”