St. John's Jesuit may have been voted the No. 1 Division I basketball team in Ohio, but the Titans needed the greatest comeback in City League championship-game history last night to remain No. 1 in Toledo.
Trailing 46-28 with just 4:27 left in the game, the Titans (20-0) staged a miracle rally to edge the Scott Bulldogs 53-51 before a crowd of more than 6,000 at Savage Hall.
E.J. Johnson grabbed a long rebound off teammate John Floyd's miss, and was fouled with 1.2 seconds remaining by Scott's Vershawn Chears with the score tied at 51.
Johnson hit both free throws and Chears' desperation half-court heave at the buzzer failed, preserving the Titans' unlikely finish.
“If you play with doubt, you'll never succeed,” Johnson said. “We were just trying our best to keep it going and not give up. Brian [Roberts] hit a whole bunch of big shots, Floyd came through, and we were able to hit our free throws (14 of 16 in fourth quarter).
“It feels good to hit those [winning] free throws, but I wouldn't have been in that position if it wasn't for Brian Roberts and the rest of our team.”
St. John's, which won its eighth league title for 23rd-year coach Ed Heintschel (392-129), finally found a way to disarm Scott's potent pressure defense in the final quarter, scoring one more point (27) over the last eight minutes than it did through three quarters.
“They're just great kids,” Heintschel said, “as good a group as I've ever coached.”
Driving the Titan comeback was Floyd, the third-year starter who led all scorers with 24 points, and sophomore guard mate Roberts, who sparked the rally with 10 of his 14 points in the decisive quarter.
“We talked about adversity all year and, if we would've came out and died [late], we wouldn't have been in the game at all,” Roberts said. “We just said, ‘Forget it, let's just play our hardest and see what happens.'
“This team has a lot of heart. That's been a trademark of this team all year. We play our hardest no matter what the situation is.”
Scott (16-4), a 66-49 loser to St. John's four weeks earlier, this time played the Titans to near perfection before the final 4:27. An 18-10 third quarter created a seemingly commanding 37-26 lead.
When 6-10 center Derrick Ford hit the first of two free throws for his 15th and final point with 4:27 left, the Bulldogs sensed their second straight CL title and 19th overall.
But it was not to be.
“We both played a good game,” said Ford, who added 10 rebounds. “In the fourth quarter St. John's changed their defense and we let up a little bit, which we shouldn't have. And then I fouled out, and that got the momentum to St. John's. But we'll see them again in the district finals, definitely.”
Ford knows the flip-side of heartbreak in this title game. His rebound layup with three seconds remaining beat Waite 48-47 in last year's CL final.
“I've got to give credit to St. John's,” Ford said. “They played a heck of a game. And John Floyd, that's my boy. He played a good game.”
St. John's staged its own brand of pressure defense, forcing nine fourth-quarter Bulldog turnovers as the lead began to shrink.
“At that point we didn't have any choice [but to press],” Heintschel said. “We had to get up and down the floor, and the kids did a terrific job. This is unbelievable.”
Floyd's three-point play with 4:19 left was followed by Roberts' 18-foot jumper 19 seconds later to make it 46-33. Roberts was then fouled by Scott's top scorer, Jason Lawson (17 points), attempting a 3-pointer, and made all three free throws. Roberts then stole the ball and completed a three-point play with 3:09 left, and it was 46-39.
Roberts added two more free throws before Jamell Baldwin's layup for Scott at 2:33 ended a 13-0 Titan run. Floyd then hit a trey from the right corner, and sank two free throws after a Titan steal led to his being fouled by Baldwin with 1:56 left.
After another steal, Floyd was fouled (Ford's fifth) and tied the game at 48 with two foul shots at 1:34. St. John's had made up the 18-point deficit in a span of 2:53.
“After I hit a few shots I just tried to get us fired up and show a little emotion,” Floyd said. “I think we feed off that emotion.
“When we were down [by 18] I thought we could come back because we had a similar situation down at the East Liverpool Christmas tournament. We were down by 16 points to [Cincinnati] St. Xavier with three minutes left. So, we knew we could come back. I'm just glad we did.
“I've got to give Scott credit. They were great. They came out and never quit. Even when we made that run they were still fighting. It was a dogfight to the end.”
The back-breaker for Scott may have been a traveling call on Lawson on the ensuing inbounds play, and Brandon Fields' easy layup on a feed from Roberts on the subsequent Titan inbounds play gave St. John's its first lead of the game with 1:29 remaining.
Lawson was called for charging, then Johnson was fouled with 1:04 left. He made one of two for a 51-48 lead. Lawson hit two free throws with40.6 seconds to go, and Scott forced a Floyd turnover with 19 seconds left. Scott's Stuart Sims made just one of two free throws to tie it with 10 seconds left, setting the stage for Johnson.
STATS: FG: Scott 16-44; St. John's 17-50. FT: Scott 17-20; St. John's 15-22. Rebounds: Scott 37; St. John's 28. Turnovers: Scott 23; St. John's 12.