It was almost a redemption story for the John Carroll University men’s basketball team, but the Blue Streaks fell just short in the Ohio Athletic Conference Championship game, going on the road and losing to the top-seeded Marietta College Pioneers, 88-85.
The loss ends JCU’s season at 19-9 overall, while Marietta improves to 25-3 entering this weekend’s NCAA Tournament.
The OAC final marked the third time the Blue Streaks and Pioneers squared off against each other this year. The first game between the two was played at Marietta on Jan. 15 with the Pioneers winning by a score of 101-90. The second matchup between the two was played on Feb. 19 in the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center with the Pioneers hitting a shot at the buzzer to win the game 82-81.
With two close losses during the regular season, the Blue Streaks wanted a shot at redemption in the conference tournament and their wish was granted. Going into the OAC final, Marietta was ranked No. 13 in the nation by D3Hoops.com.
Knowing their postseason hopes rested solely on this one game, the Blue Streaks had to come out of the gates ready to play some of their best basketball of the season, and in the first half, they did just that.
Both teams battled for the lead as the score was 24-20 in favor of JCU with 8:56 to play in the first half.
From there, the Blue Streaks completely took the game over and increased their lead to 21 points at halftime as they led the Pioneers by a score of 49-28.
Marietta, playing in front of their home fans in a sold out Ban Johnson Arena, responded in the second half by shooting lights out from the floor and forcing turnovers.
The lead the Blue Streaks held at halftime evaporated into a slim four-point lead after less than seven minutes ticked off the clock in the second half and with 13:07 left in the game, the Blue Streaks were clinging to a narrow 59-55 lead.
JCU led the entire game until Marietta tied the game at 69 with 6:36 to play. Shortly after, Marietta took the lead, 71-70, with 5:34 to play. JCU took the lead again, and held on to a narrow lead until the game was tied at 82 with 1:41 to play.
Marietta took a two-point lead with 49 seconds to play in regulation until junior Mark Hester, who scored a game-high 24 points, hit a layup for the Blue Streaks, once again tying the game, this time at 85 with 36 seconds remaining in the game.
Marietta took possession following Hester’s layup and wisely allowed time to tick off the 35-second shot clock. The Pioneers drained nearly every second off of the shot clock before taking their final shot of the game.
Their leading scorer, Trevor Halter nailed a well-contested three-pointer to give the Pioneers an 88-85 lead.
Blue Streak junior Corey Shontz had one last attempt to tie the game with a desperation three-pointer of his own, but it was off to the left and the Marietta Pioneers pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Marietta made 19 of their 30 shots from the field in the second half, including seven of their 14 three-point attempts. The hot shooting, as well as turning the ball over five times in the second half, made the difference.
As the 2010-11 season comes to an end for the JCU men’s basketball team, much of the recognition will be given to senior Maurice Haynes, the team’s leading scorer and only player that will be lost due to graduation.
He went out in style, scoring 20 points and grabbing five rebounds in his last collegiate game.
Haynes joined Shontz, the heartbeat of the team, on the all-tournament team.
“These last four years have been great,” Haynes said. “I couldn’t have asked for more in this basketball experience. Looking back on this season, we experienced some ups and downs but overall it was the best season ever. I enjoyed every part of it. I had so much fun.”
Haynes was quick to point out that aside from competing, he’ll miss the people that have supported him throughout the last four years.
“Those guys in that locker room who joined me in the foxhole every night are my best friends,” he said. “I love those guys from the coaches all the way down to the fans who made this experience the best. On behalf of my family and myself, I thank the John Carroll community.”
As coach Mike Moran prepares for next season, he should have high expectations as he will lose only Haynes and will get redshirt sophomore Kyle Hubbard and junior Patrick Sweeney back healthy.