A lot has happened with the John Carroll University men’s basketball team since the students finished their finals and headed home for the holidays. JCU’s 23-game regular season win streak was snapped. They suffered their first home loss since Feb. 13 of 2008. And that No. 2 ranking now applies to their standing in the Ohio Athletic Conference, not the national poll.
As the snow accumulated in University Heights, it seemed to slow down more than just the traffic on Cedar Road. The Blue Streaks lost four out of five games between Dec. 9 and Jan. 2, two of them coming in the OAC.
“We weren’t playing close to the same level as we were last year,” said senior point guard Chris Zajac. “It was a big wakeup call that we still had a lot of work to do if we want to get where we want to be this year.”
One of the disadvantages to having the same team back from the previous season is that many of the conference teams are more familiar with the makeup of the Blue Streaks.
“Everyone is used to playing against us this year because it was the same team as last year,” said senior guard Brian Dandrea. “It makes the way we prepare for our games now that much more critical.”
JCU has recently showed signs of righting their ship. After suffering their third conference loss to Heidelberg at home on Jan. 13, the Blue Streaks went on the road the following Saturday to Ohio Northern, a team expected to contend with the Blue Streaks for the OAC championship, and handed the Polar Bears a 92-59 defeat.
Sophomore point guard Corey Shontz led the way with team highs of 20 points and six assists. Sophomore center Matt Crozier backed up his classmate with 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Zajac, and fellow senior Tyler Kirsch also reached double digits, scoring 11 points each. JCU nailed 10 of 20 from beyond the arc while keeping the Polar Bears at a frigid three of 19.
“That was a big win for us,” Shontz said after the game. “Hopefully we can use the momentum built today to get us back where we need to be.”
The Blue Streaks traveled to Marietta College this past Saturday as they opened up the second half of their conference schedule. Marietta was coming fresh off of a 17-point victory against conference leader Wilmington.
Marietta carried that momentum into the game as JCU dug themselves an early hole and trailed by eight at the half.
However, JCU would limit its mistakes in the second half. They turned the ball over just four times in the final 20 minutes and held Marietta guard Trevor Halter to just six points after he netted 16 in the first half. Senior forward Rudy Kirbus hit three of four from beyond the arc for a team-high 11 points. Shontz was the only other Blue Streak in double figures with 10.
“Big win on the road,” said Kirbus afterwards. “We’ve struggled a little bit this year with overcoming deficits. It was huge boost for us mentally to be able to get a win today when things weren’t really going our way.”
More important than that individual win was the fact that it keeps JCU in a tight race for the regular season conference crown. John Carroll, along with Ohio Northern and Heidelberg, all have conference records of 7-3. Wilmington’s loss dropped them to 8-2.
John Carroll will get a chance to avenge its early season, triple overtime loss at Wilmington on Feb. 6 when the Quakers come to the DeCarlo Varsity Center.
“We can’t even look at that right now, as much as we might want to,” said Kirsch. “Every game is a must win. We have to use each game to reestablish our team identity.”
They can start doing that this Saturday when they travel to New Concord, Ohio to take on the Muskies from Muskingum College, who they defeated on Dec. 5.