With many students getting ready for Spring Break, thus concluding the winter season, the John Carroll University men’s basketball team hopes to have the winter carry on for a few more weeks. The team has begun its quest in hopes for a second consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament Championship.
After clinching a share of the regular season crown last Saturday against Capital, JCU had two tough remaining games to claim first place outright and, perhaps just as important, improve its regional ranking for the NCAA tournament.
On Wednesday, JCU traveled to Tiffin, Ohio, to face the Student Princes of Heidelberg University, the last team to defeat the Blue Streaks and also the team that ended John Carroll’s home win streak inside the DeCarlo Varsity Center.
The fact that the ‘Berg had lost six games in a row did not diminish their confidence as they jumped out to a 35-22 lead on an alley-oop by Nate Davis.
However, after that point, JCU would solve the Student Princes zone defense, closing the first half on a 21-5 run, capped by a three- pointer and a layup by senior forward Rudy Kirbus.
After going back-and-forth for most of the second half, JCU would open it up a bit on a three-pointer from the wing by senior Tyler Kirsch, his only field goal of the game.
The Student Princes would work their way back into the game, but could never overcome the deficit.
Sophomore point guard Corey Shontz made all four of his free throws down the stretch, as JCU came away with a 95-91 victory that gave the Blue Streaks sole possession of the OAC regular season championship.
“That was our main goal at the beginning of the season,” said Kirsch of winning the conference title. “Playing postseason games at home is such a huge advantage for us. It took a little more work to earn it this year than it did last year, but we overcame the obstacles we needed to and got what we wanted.”
Sophomore guard Joey Meyer led five Blue Streaks who reached double figures with 15 points. Shontz had 14, while Kirbus and sophomore center Matt Crozier had 13 apiece. Senior point guard Chris Zajac had 11.
As a team, JCU, who leads the OAC in three-point shooting, was 15 of 29 from behind the arc.
Feb. 20 marked “Senior Day” for the Blue Streaks as they closed out the regular season against Ohio Northern University. Although first place in the conference had already been secured, not only did the seniors want to close out with a win, but also improve their chances of earning the top seed in the region, where they are currently seeded second behind Hope College.
The Blue Streaks came out and made a statement right from the start, jumping out to a 25-8 lead. Around that point, tempers started to flare as three technical fouls were assessed, including senior guard Brian Dandrea being ejected from the game after a tussle with Polar Bears center Scott Schnelle.
Dandrea’s absence opened the door for senior T.J. DiSanto to fill in for his classmate. DiSanto made the most of the opportunity by having what was easily his best game of the season, netting 13 points on three of five shooting from behind the arc.
“It was a good feeling,” DiSanto said after the game, “I knew I was going to get a lot of minutes when Brian went out, so I just let everything come to me rather than trying to force something.”
DiSanto was one of seven Blue Streaks to score in double figures as the Polar Bears never got back within single digits of JCU’s lead.
Shontz, along with junior center Maurice Haynes, led the way with 16 points each. Kirbus had 14 points while Meyer and DiSanto each had 13. Crozier had 12, and junior swingman Tommy Lavelle had 10.
Kirbus also led the way with 10 rebounds to give him a double-double for the contest.
“If this was our last game in this gym, I’d be happy with the way we went out,” said Kirbus, “But I’m [happier] that we get to play here again.”
This season marked the third regular season championship for the senior class.
“It’s a big accomplishment that I’m sure we’ll appreciate [down the road],” said Zajac. “But right now we’re focusing on the other goals we set for ourselves to accomplish at the beginning of the season.”
Editor’s Note: The journey towards defending the OAC title started last night when Marietta Colllege came to town.
Should JCU win, they will host the conference semifinal game on Friday night.