After exiting the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament after one game in two straight seasons, the John Carroll University men’s basketball team had much to prove Monday night.
The Blue Streaks rode strong post play into the second round, defeating No. 8 seed Otterbein University for the third time this season by a final score of 95-74 at home.
Otterbein came out of the gates aggressively, stopping JCU on their first three possessions and taking an 8-5 lead at 15:55 in the first half following a three-point play from forward Grant Fenner.
Blue Streaks freshman Doug Caputo and sophomore Simon Kucharewicz led the second unit onto the floor, scoring a quick 10 points and giving JCU a 15-14 lead at 13:27.
Otterbein continued to attack the basket and succeeded often enough to bring the Cardinals within a 25-24 deficit with 9:48 left to play in the half.
Kucharewicz and the bench unit wouldn’t let the momentum last for long. Three strong drives to the hoop from the forward gave the Blue Streaks a 33-27 lead at 5:54. The commanding post play began to open up back door cuts and more opportunities on the perimeter for the Blue Streaks throughout the rest of the half. Kucharewicz finished the first half with a team-high 12 points.
Senior post player Jordan Murphy and junior Jake Hollinger followed Kucharewicz’s lead with strong drives of their own, giving JCU their biggest lead of the half at 41-30 with less than a minute on the clock.
Otterbein’s Jake Bischoff knocked down his fifth 3-pointer of the half with 39 seconds left on the clock to make the halftime score 41-33 in favor of JCU. Bischoff finished the half with an impressive 17 points, giving Otterbein a dynamic scoring threat.
Both teams went back and forth to start the second half until Kucharewicz came off the bench to rock the rafters twice with driving dunks that put the Blue Streaks up 55-42 at 15:27.
“I have great guards and a great big man around me,” said Kucharewicz. “You have to motivate each other because that’s what really gets the team going. Getting some of those dunks was a way I helped motivate our team and the crowd.”
Sophomore guard Will Starks knocked down a 3-pointer and Caputo followed with a 15-foot shot to extend JCU’s lead to 60-47 with 13:27 left.
JCU 3-pointers from sophmore Danny Wallack, junior David Hendrickson and freshman Tim Ludlow were matched by Otterbein’s Bischoff and Matt Rhodes.
With both teams going back and forth on offense in the final minutes, Kucharewicz once again brought the crowd to its feet with a monstrous dunk. It gave JCU their biggest lead of the game at 88-70 with 3:59 left.
Despite late efforts and efficient three-point shooting from Otterbein, the Cardinals couldn’t produce nearly enough offense to catch the Blue Streaks.
Against all odds, the John Carroll University men’s basketball team is still dancing.
Playing for the second time in two nights, the Blue Streaks traveled to Ada, Ohio on Tuesday evening for a second round Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament matchup with No. 4 seed Ohio Northern University, a team that had beaten the Blue and Gold twice in the regular season.
The Blue Streaks took no notice of either fact, smacking the Polar Bears in the mouth in a 92-81 victory.
The Blue and Gold established a double-digit lead with 8:31 remaining in the first and never looked back, converting on plentiful free throw opportunities to hold on for the win.
Sophomore Joey Vuyancih led the way for the Blue Streaks with 19 points, shooting 5-of-10 from the field.
Junior Jake Hollinger (14 points), sophomore Will Starks (11), junior David Hendrickson (10) and sophomore Danny Wallack (10) all chipped in double figures, too.
The beginning of the contest was fairly even, as the teams traded the lead a few times. That changed with a Starks jumper and a Hollinger dunk seven minutes into the game.
This pair of plays set off a 15-5 JCU run, granting the Blue and Gold a 28-15 lead with 6:41 to play in the first half.
The veteran Polar Bears did not panic. Having won their past six games, ONU refused to lose its first game since Feb. 1. The Polar Bears drew within two with three minutes left in the first half, thanks to ONU seniors Branden Rushton and Jared Horstman.
A pair of Wallack free throws and a Hollinger lay up kept JCU in the lead, 36-30, heading into halftime.
The Blue and Gold roared out of the gate in the second half, rolling up an 11-5 run. Five minutes into the second stanza, JCU led 47-35.
The Blue Streaks kept building on the lead, as a Wallack 3-pointer and Vuyancih jumper granted JCU a 15-point advantage with just under 12 minutes to play.
Every time the Polar Bears hit a shot, the Blue Streaks nailed one in response. The lead remained in double digits until ONU’s Lucas Pennington drilled a 3-pointer with 3:28 remaining.
The Polar Bears hung in the game, remaining within striking distance. Forced to foul, ONU sent JCU to the charity stripe for 15 shots in the final 2:39.
The Blue Streaks hit each and every shot, sealing the 92-81 decision in the final minutes.
Heading into the game, JCU was shooting just 64.2 percent from the foul line, last in the OAC. On Tuesday evening against the Polar Bears, the Blue Streaks hit 30-of-36, or 83.3 percent.
JCU’s outstanding performance from the charity stripe allowed the Blue and Gold to overcome a tough night (6-of-22) from behind the arc.
The victory sets JCU up for its third appearance in the OAC Tournament semifinals in four years. The Blue Streaks travel to Alliance, Ohio tonight for a 7:30 p.m. showdown with No. 1 seed University of Mount Union.