[Written by Spencer German]
On Thursday, Feb. 23, a packed Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center was the site for one of two Ohio Athletic Conference semifinal games, which featured the OAC regular season champion Blue Streaks (18-7, 13-6 OAC) and the Wilmington Quakers (16-13, 11-8 OAC). In the two previous meetings between these teams during the regular season, it was John Carroll that walked away with the win. However, neither of the first two contests had as high of stakes as this one would, as the winner would advance to the OAC Finals for a chance at the conference championship.
Both teams came out ready to fight right from the start, as the game began with back and forth scoring between both teams. However, with JCU up 27-25 with 8:09 to go in the first half of action, the Blue Streaks suddenly lost some of that competitive edge. Wilmington ended the first half on an 18-8 run that had them up eight points, 43-35.
The story in the first half was really the hot shooting of Wilmington, especially that of the team’s catalyst, sophomore Malcolm Heard II. Heard hit eight of the 10 shots he took in the first half, and had a game-high 20 points at halftime. As a team, the Quakers were able to shoot 64 percent from the floor, knocking down 18 of their 28 shots, leading to their eight-point lead at halftime.
It was senior Patrick Sweeney that led the way with eight points for the Blue and Gold at halftime.
All season, it has seemed like adversity has not been a problem for a resilient JCU team that always found a way to fight back with its backs against the wall.
That would be no different in the most important game of the year as well, as a 21-12 run left John Carroll down just one point, 57-56 with a little under 10 minutes to go.
Senior Joey Meyer, last week’s hero against Marietta, flipped the score in his team’s favor by sinking two free throws that put the Blue Streaks up 58-57.
About four minutes later, with just 5:55 on the clock, the score was knotted up at 69-69, and an epic finish was in store.
Less than a minute later, junior Kyle Hubbard hit a layup that put JCU back on top 71-69.
However, sloppy play down the stretch left the Blue Streaks scratching their heads, as they didn’t make another shot in the game until seven seconds remained on the clock. That was a deep 3-pointer by senior Corey Shontz, but by then it was too little, too late.
The final buzzer sounded and the packed stands emptied quietly as Wilmington celebrated a 79-74 win.
“We didn’t think he [Heard] was a great perimeter player,” said coach Mike Moran about what went wrong in their defensive game plan. “At times our pressure broke down, and they got some easy baskets, too.”
The scene after the game was one that would bruise the heart of any John Carroll fan, as hugs, tears and disappointment echoed through the DeCarlo Varsity Center. With the loss, the winningest class in the history of John Carroll University, in all likelihood, played its last game. They finished with an overall record of 83-28 over four years.
With tears in his eyes, senior Mark Hester spoke about what playing with his senior teammates meant to him.
“It’s an honor playing with those guys. All of us are really close, and I couldn’t ask for a greater group of guys to play with all four years,” said Hester.
The one bright side to the sad end to the Blue Streaks’ season is that Shontz was chosen by the OAC as the 2011-2012 OAC Player of the Year.
“It’s an absolute honor,” Shontz said. “I mean, I’d much rather go to the NCAA Tournament than get any of these accolades, but I’ll take it.”
That “team first” attitude that Shontz portrayed can be seen all throughout this historic group of seniors that played every game of their careers for one another.
If these seniors have instilled their wisdom in the next group of players to come through the program, then the future looks very bright for JCU basketball.