In the Ohio Athletic Conference, each team possesses the ability to compete at a high level every night regardless of location.
This is a lesson the John Carroll University men’s basketball team continues to learn, as a slow start and poor performance from the free throw line led to a 78-70 loss to the Marietta College Pioneers on Saturday, Jan. 18 at home.
The OAC showdown featured two teams in desperate need of a win and fighting to stay in contention. The Blue Streaks (10-5, 4-4 OAC) had the opportunity to move into third place in the OAC standings behind the University of Mount Union and Wilmington College.
Within the opening minutes, Marietta jumped out to a quick 15-6 lead led by sharp shooting guard Brennan McKean, who finished with 14 points. Despite creating open shot opportunities, JCU struggled from behind the arc in the first half, shooting just 2-for-9.
“It was one of those games where baskets seemed hard to come by,” sophomore guard Will Starks said. “Our guards, including myself, all struggled to get shots to fall. Marietta is a good defensive team and they scouted us well. But at the end of the day, if we shot better from the field it would have been a different game.”
Marietta negated JCU’s ability to run the court and create points in transition as the team likes to do. The Blue Streaks not only struggled shooting, but also protecting the basketball in the first half. At halftime, the Blue and Gold had 10 turnovers and trailed Marietta, 41-34.
JCU bolted into the second half with a sense of urgency and it showed quickly. A packed Tony DeCarlo Center rose to its feet at 18:10 when junior forward Jake Hollinger shook the rafters with a powerful dunk in the paint to bring JCU to within six points. This was a major momentum shift for the Blue Streaks.
Following the dunk, a pair of threes from junior guard David Hendrickson and a tough fullcourt press defense brought the Blue Streaks to a 58-58 standoff with 8:46 remaining.
Marietta raced back out to a 67-60 lead, but three scores from freshman Noah Bidar and a jump shot from Starks gave JCU its first lead of the game, 68-67, with 4:56 left.
Unfortunately for the Blue Streaks, the struggles from the field continued, as they just could not seem to find the bottom of the basket. Marietta guard RaNeal Ewing added to the problems, scoring on a circus-style layup with two minutes remaining to put the Pioneers up by two possessions, 72-68.
The Blue Streaks continued to fight in the closing minutes, but could not get shots, or free throws, to fall. The Blue Streaks ended the day 14-of-25 from the free throw line and 4-of-22 from behind the arc.
Behind strong finishes from Ewing and McKean, Marietta closed out the 78-70 win.
“It was a hard fought game and unfortunately we let it slip away,” Hendrickson said. “We just came a couple plays short of getting the win, but Marietta is a great team. It’s disappointing to lose at home but we know we’re not out of the OAC race just yet. We just have to keep building and working hard to improve.”
Editor’s Note: For stats and a recap of Wednesday’s road contest at Otterbein, check out jcusports.com.