The St. John’s Jesuit boys basketball team may not quite be ready to take down the biggest dog in the state.
But the Titans’ 66-59 home loss to nationally ranked Lakewood St. Edward today night did nothing to slow their more immediate pursuit.
"We schedule these games to get ready for our conference," said St. John’s senior guard Anthony Glover, Jr., who finished with a team-high 22 points. "Any loss hurts. We really wanted to stun them. But we’ll be ready for what’s next."
Glover and his teammates now shift their attention back to the Three Rivers Athletic Conference race — the Titans (13-4, 9-0 TRAC) hold a 1 1/2-game lead over Central Catholic (12-2, 7-1) — after a night that left them with mixed feelings.
The Eagles (15-1) led wire to wire behind a game-high 34 points by Kipper Nichols. But that belied the tension that hung over the Titan dome for much of the night — and the Titans' ability to navigate their toughest test of the season.
St. Edward arrived in town ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 1 and 11th nationally in the latest USA Today poll. The Eagles were so deep that coveted 6-foot-9 sophomore Derek Funderburk, who was offered a scholarship by Ohio State last week, came off the bench.
The Titans had no answer for Nichols, a 6-foot-7 junior who has offers from Dayton and Kent State among others. He scored at will inside and out, with 21 of his points coming in a first half that began with the Eagles sprinting to a 9-0 lead that soon ballooned to 17-5.
St. John’s, though, promptly answered. A pair of 3-pointers by senior JP Celis started a 10-1 run and the balanced Titans, who also got 14 points from senior post Parker Ernsthausen, stuck around. They pulled within one point late in the first half at 31-30 and trailed 51-47 midway through the fourth quarter.
It was then that the visitors pulled away. Funderburk hit a pair of free throws for two of his four points with 3:56 left and Nichols powered through a foul off a baseline drive for a traditional three-point play that pushed the Eagles ahead 56-47.
"[St. Edward] has a lot of weapons," Titans coach Ed Heintschel said. "Kipper shot real well. They've got a presence inside, and they play good defense. They're a very, very good team. They're number 1 in the state for a reason, and I think they showed a lot of why tonight.
"When you play teams like this, you find out what you need to do. This is the level we want to play at. So we have to figure out what we need to do to get to that level. It's not disheartening. It doesn't particularly thrill me, but it's an important game for us to sort out where we are."
St. Edward coach Eric Flannery, meanwhile, said he was "just happy to get out of here with a win."
"With all the hype and the national ranking, I think a lot of that is overblown," he said. "We're a good team, yes. But we're happy with this. St. John's is a good team, and a team that's getting better."