It had been more than six years, it was not easy, and it was not over until a shot fell short as time expired.
But St. Francis de Sales' losing string against arch-rival St. John's Jesuit was finally snapped last night as the eighth-ranked Knights prevailed 52-49 in a key City League basketball matchup before a crowd of more than 7,200 at Savage Hall.
The seven-game losing skid dated back to a 54-37 Knight win at SeaGate Center on Jan. 21, 2000. And, until the final two minutes, it appeared the four-time defending CL-champion Titans (14-3, 9-1) might find a way to extend the streak.
"I said to [assistant coach Dave] Rieker, 'Check my back out; there's no monkey there,'●" fifth-year Knights coach Nick Lowe said. "My kids deserve all the credit. They believed in the end, and they were together.
"Those were our two key words this week - togetherness and believe. That's what we had to do tonight to win."
Standout Knight senior guard Darryl Roberts, in an offensive slump of late, lifted his game when St. Francis (15-1, 9-1) needed it most, scoring 11 of his game-high 22 points in the final 6:57.
"He's been battling a deep thigh bruise for two and a half weeks," Lowe said, "and he hasn't been the normal Darryl Roberts. But, in crunch time tonight, I think he forgot about his leg and decided it was time to show what makes him the player he is."
"I just had to keep shooting," Roberts said. "I'm trying to find my groove in these big games, and I was trying to shoot early to find my shot.
"This was sweet beating these guys, but our main focus is to win the [CL] championship."
There were other heroes.
Knight junior guard Nick Meinert, held scoreless otherwise, netted a crucial 3-pointer from atop the key with 1:59 remaining to knot the score 47-47.
Junior guard Chris Wyse, playing in his first St. Francis-St. John's rivalry game after transferring in this season, had 15 points and eight rebounds. Wyse hit what proved to be the game-winning shot on a broken play.
His fall-away 10-footer from the right baseline gave St. Francis a 51-49 lead with 27 seconds to play after St. John's nearly stole a pass from Roberts to Wyse on the right wing.
Wyse recovered the loose ball, drove to the basket, and hit the shot after being denied the baseline.
"I was supposed to get the ball and give it back to Darryl," Wyse said, "but things got changed and they stole the ball. I got it back and it was wide open, so I just took the shot."
Senior Knight guard Brian Martin had a chance to seal the win twice, but missed two free throws with 7.4 seconds left, and one of two with 5.5 seconds to go.
But a 35-foot 3-point attempt by St. John's Mike Floyd fell short as the buzzer sounded.
Jonathan Dunn - on a scoring tear of late with 117 points in the Titans' last four games - was cooled off. He was the only Titan in double figures with 10 points. Andrew Taylor added nine points and 10 rebounds.
Poor shooting ultimately doomed the Titans, who were 14-of-48 from the field, 7-for-24 in each half. St. John's hit just two of its 14 3-point attempts, but managed to stay close with 19-of-25 free throw shooting.
"We got dribble happy and guys were trying to do too much instead of just staying together in a team game," Titans coach Ed Heintschel said. "I don't think it was anybody being selfish. They were just trying to do something good, and things kind of broke down.
"We didn't block out in the free throw lane at the end. There were a lot of things we didn't do. There are some things we're not taking care of well enough to beat good teams. Until we do those things, we aren't going to."
St. Francis didn't shoot much better in this tightly played contest, hitting 19 of 51 from the field and 13 of 24 from the line. The Knights edged St. John's 39-38 on the boards, and were 16-15 on the good side on turnovers.
The see-saw battle had 15 lead changes, including five in the fourth quarter. St. Francis never led by more than six points, and St. John's biggest cushion was four on two occasions in the final quarter.
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