[Written by Spencer German]
Four quarters of basketball wasn’t enough on Saturday, Feb. 11, as the Blue Streaks (16-6, 11-5 OAC) battled Wilmington (12-10, 10-6), hoping to stay in the hunt for the OAC Tournament’s coveted No. 1 seed. Coming off of two straight losses for the first time in 14 months, John Carroll knew Saturday’s game was a must-win.
As the game commenced, both teams came out ready to play as the score bounced back and forth evenly, until 10:50 in the first half when the Blue Streaks went up by six points, 21-15. Still up six, 31-25, and with 3:46 remaining on the clock before halftime, the Quakers started a run in their favor.
Wilmington junior Brandon Candella finished the 12-4 run by Wilmington with a 3-pointer that gave his team a 37-35 lead at the break.
The Quakers picked up where they left off in the first half of play, quickly opening up a 10-4 run out of the intermission that put them up eight, 47-39. Another big run by Wilmington left JCU down 14 with 10:50 to go in the game. With hopes of a No. 1 seed hanging in the balance, the Blue Streaks kicked it into high gear.
Two pressure-packed Mark Hester free throws started a run in favor of the Blue Streaks. Back-to-back steals by senior Patrick Sweeney had the bench and fans back in the game as the Quaker lead was cut to just eight, 63-55.
With just 51 seconds to go, two free throws by senior Michael Hartnett gave the Blue Streaks their first lead since late in the first half, 74-73. Tied at 75, it was Hartnett who had the open look from three-point territory to win the game at the buzzer, but couldn’t knock it down as this dogfight was going to overtime.
Overtime was reminiscent of the first two halves of play as both teams battled back and forth and with under a minute to go, they were still dead-locked, 82-82.
With John Carroll in possession of the ball, it was Hester who stepped up by driving the lane and banking a layup off the glass, giving the Blue Streaks the 84-82 lead with eight seconds to go. Tough defense and a lack of urgency led to Wilmington not taking a final shot as the Blue and Gold sealed the deal.
Hester finished the game with a team-leading 16 points, but none were as big as his last two that gave his team the win.
“I just wanted to go to the hole, instead of settling for a jump shot.Luckily, I hit off the glass at the right spot and it went in,” said Hester.
Patrick Sweeney finished right behind Hester with 15 points, four rebounds and four steals, but his timely defense produced perhaps the two biggest plays of the game.
“It felt really good [to get those steals]. Coach Moran preaches we’re going to win by getting stops, and bottom line, we prepared well,” said Sweeney. “We knew their formations, I anticipated it and picked it off and gave us two easy layups.”
Senior experience will be much needed as the Blue Streaks finish the regular season on the road on Saturday, Feb. 18 against a Marietta team that is tied for second in the OAC currently with JCU. Both teams will be jockeying for seeding in the OAC Tournament that begins on Monday, Feb. 20.