After dropping the regular season finale – which was also “Senior Day” for the team’s lone senior Maurice Haynes – to Marietta College, Haynes made one thing very clear: “We absolutely want to see them again in the tournament,” he said.
Since the Blue Streaks took care of business Tuesday night and knocked off the University of Mount Union in the opening round of the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, they’re one step closer to getting their wish.
JCU, the second seed in the eight-team tournament, knocked off seventh-seeded Mount Union by a score of 75-68.
A total team effort helped JCU knock off Mount Union for the third time this season.
Six Blue Streaks scored at least eight points, led by Haynes who finished with 18 points before fouling out late in the second half.
Junior Corey Shontz had a terrific game all-around, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. That was with Mount Union concentrating on him after he scored 30 points in their last meeting.
The Purple Raiders came up seven points short – agonizing when you consider that they missed 17 free throws.
The Blue Streaks will now host Capital University, a team they beat both times they met this season, tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the conference semifinals.
If JCU can beat a good Capital team for the third time this season and if Marietta is able to take care of business against Heidelberg University, that will setup a showdown in Marietta on Saturday evening between the two teams that played a classic last Saturday.
That would be a game that would be played with high intensity and energy for 40 minutes due to the fact that the two teams are fresh off a battle and things could certainly be a bit more interesting if they meet for a third time.
Marietta came into the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center having already clinched the regular season title and were really playing for what many believe would be a harbinger of the conference championship.
“Even though Marietta locked it up, they still had something to prove. I think that having a lot of kids from the Cleveland area contributed to that,” said coach Mike Moran.
Spurred by a rowdy student section, Haynes and junior Mark Hester both slammed down dunks in a seesaw first half that yielded five lead changes.
Notwithstanding the dunks and hostile atmosphere, the No. 11 team in Division III basketball would not be outdone.
One of Marietta’s Cleveland players, freshman Tyler Hammond, swung the momentum in favor of the away team with a three-pointer at the first half buzzer to close out the half with the Pioneers up by six.
“We knew it was going to be a heck of a battle. Our problem was not the final few minutes, it was the first three or four minutes. We made a few adjustments on defense at the half,” said Moran.
The Pioneers would comfortably hold a lead by as many as nine points before Shontz hit his only three-pointer at the 9:08 mark in the second half.
From then on out the two titan teams atop the conference would trade mutual barbs while simultaneously avoiding the disastrous fatal blow. In a game as emotionally charged as this one – Moran was slapped with a technical foul upon arguing a charging violation against the Blue Streaks – it seemed fitting that a buzzer beater was in order from one side or the other.
Late in the contest and holding a precarious one-point lead, Conner Kilpatrick of Marietta put Haynes on the line with his fifth personal foul. Haynes was true on both shots to leapfrog JCU over Marietta by a point for the time being.
After missed field goals on both subsequent possessions the stage was set for Marietta to hold for one final shot. Just like the ending to the first half, Marietta converted.
Junior Kevin Knab, branded with a fresh cut above the eye from a confrontation earlier in the game, pulled up from the foul line and tallied a two-pointer as time expired.
Upon draining the basket, Knab incurred the ire of Blue Streak fans by sprinting to the student section on the other side of the gym to mockingly gesture in the direction of the home faithful.
The 82-81 loss marked the second time Marietta defeated JCU this year. The two teams could very well meet one last time in the conference championship on Saturday.
And this time, there’s more on the line: an automatic trip to the NCAA Tournament.