Watching the John Carroll University men’s basketball team this year is very similar to waiting to have your cable installed: you’re never sure when they’re going to decide to show up and turn it on.
But more importantly for the Blue Streaks this past week, they were able to turn it on in time to move back into a tie at the top of the Ohio Athletic Conference standings with the Wilmington Quakers, setting up a huge matchup this Saturday.
“You could say we’re lucky to be in this position and you could say we’ve overcome a lot to get here,” said senior guard Brian Dandrea, “But all that matters is we’re here and it’s our opportunity to accomplish what we set out to do back in September.”
JCU’s wild week started this past Wednesday at home against Baldwin-Wallace College. The Yellow Jackets stung the Blue Streaks early on as they built a lead that got as high as 18 points in the first half.
JCU was out-hustled on the glass in the first 20 minutes with the Yellow Jackets winning the rebounding battle, 25-18.
A technical foul on B-W in the final minute of the half helped the Blue Streaks get a four point possession after sophomore Joey Meyer sank both free throws and sophomore Corey Shontz closed out the scoring in the first half as Coach Moran’s squad entered the intermission trailing by 11.
Luckily for the home fans, who were somewhat stunned at the deficit, the “cable company” showed up to start the second half. Led by senior point guard Chris Zajac, JCU showed why they are the defending OAC champions, forcing 14 turnovers in the second half after forcing just four miscues in the opening half.
Zajac scored 12 of his 17 in the second half while committing zero turnovers for the game. Shontz also turned in a similar second half performance, scoring 12 of his team high 18 points in the final half.
JCU used a 15-0 run to get the lead back, and they would lead the rest of the way en route to an 80-67 victory.
“There really wasn’t much to be said at halftime,” Zajac said. “We all knew we were a lot better than we showed in the first half. We just had to get back to playing our game and controlling the tempo, and we did a good job of that in the second half.”
On Jan. 30, JCU traveled to New Concord to take on the last-place Muskies from Muskingum College who were 1-10 in league play.
A layup from sophomore Michael Hartnett at the buzzer gave JCU a 34-33 advantage going into halftime, but it would not be smooth sailing in the second half.
The Blue Streaks had a hard time getting it going and once again, dug themselves into an 11-point deficit with seven minutes remaining.
They would finally find an offensive spark, which again came from Shontz, who put on a more impressive second half performance than the one he put together against the Yellow Jackets.
The sophomore guard scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the final seven minutes, igniting a 15-4 run to tie the game at 69 with just over three minutes remaining.
None of the 16 points were bigger than the final three. Muskingum’s Corey Bourquin hit two foul shots with four seconds left to give the Muskies an 80-77 lead.
Coming out of a timeout, Shontz pulled up from 40 feet and drilled a three-pointer to send the game into overtime. After going 0-4 from beyond the arc during the first 40 minutes, senior forward Rudy Kirbus nailed his first two attempts in the overtime to get JCU out ahead 86-81.
The Blue Streaks would then calmly knock down their free throws down the stretch and hang on for a 92-89 win.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t play well as a team, and we didn’t play well today,” said Kirbus after the game. “But more importantly, we found a way to win on the road and all that adds up at the end of the season.”
What it all added up to at this point is the biggest week of the season for John Carroll.
Editor’s Note: Details from last night’s game against Mount Union were not available for this edition.