A decade has passed now and veteran St. John's Jesuit basketball coach Ed Heintschel is hoping his Titans can repeat a portion of their history from 1996, and this time rewrite the ending.
But, before they can rewrite anything, the Titans (19-5) must first find a way to upset second-ranked Mansfield Senior (22-1) in a Division I regional semifinal at 7 o'clock tonight at Savage Hall, then win a regional final on Saturday night there.
Back in 1995, Heintschel's Titans were fresh off four straight regional tournament appearances, including a state-runner-up finish in 1993.
In '95, a team led by All-Ohio and Ohio State-bound senior Neshaun Coleman seemed poised for another long tourney run. But that team ended at 21-2 with an upset loss to rival St. Francis de Sales in the district semifinals.
A much less-heralded St. John's squad then surprised many by advancing to the Division I state final in 1996, losing to Cincinnati LaSalle 59-56.
Ten years later, a St. John's team that had reached the state semifinals in 2003 and was state runner-up in 2004 appeared destined for a third consecutive trip to the 2005 state final four behind two All-Ohioans, first-teamer B.J. Raymond (now at Xavier) and second-teamer Zach Hillesland (Notre Dame).
But those plans were derailed by Scott in a 63-61 loss in the district final after St. John's had beaten the Bulldogs 74-50 and 70-51 in two prior 2005 meetings.
The 2005-06 season has been much like 1995-96 for St. John's, which was expected to suffer a significant dropoff after the graduation of Raymond and Hillesland.
But the Titans, like their predecessors from a decade earlier, have improved throughout the season, with a sharp jump upward down the stretch.
After losing to CL-champion Scott 57-53 in league play and 56-51 in two overtimes in the Feb. 23 City championship game, the Titans stayed hungry for a third meeting with Scott.
That came last Saturday at Savage Hall, when St. John's played its best game of the season in a 74-59 victory in the D-I district final. The Titans shot 54 percent from the field, including a 6-of-12 effort from 3-point range. Jonathan Dunn, a 6-foot-3 first-team, all-district senior guard, leads St. John's in scoring at 18.7 points and also grabs five rebounds a contest. Andrew Taylor, a 6-7 senior forward whose overall game has caught fire of late, averages 13 points and seven boards.
Another key factor in St. John's recent play has been the improved health of 6-1 junior guard Joe Jakubowski (10.6 points, 4.0 rebounds), who is finally at full strength after missing several midseason games with a leg injury. He netted five 3-pointers in Saturday's win over Scott.
"Getting Joe back [to full health] has been huge for us," Heintschel said following Saturday's game.
Rounding out the Titan lineup are senior guards Mike Floyd (6.5 points, 4.0 assists) and DeAndre Ware (9.5 points), who have each added fuel to the Titans' recent improvement, mainly with their quickness. Off the bench, freshman Michael Taylor (6.4 points), sophomore Kyle Jazwiecki and senior Brian Morrison have been key contributors.
Mansfield's Tygers, who lost to eventual state champion Canton McKinley in last year's D-I state semifinals, saw their 38-game regular-season winning streak snapped in a two-point loss at Massillon Washington in their 20th game.
The Tygers are led by district player of the year Rashad Reed, a 6-0 guard who averages 18.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and Javario Byrd, a 5-9 guard who averages 10 points a contest.
"They've got two really good guards in Reed and Byrd," Heintschel said. "As a team, they press you like Scott and they use a run-and-jump more like St. Francis.
"They absolutely rely on their pressure defense to generate points, so, first and foremost, we can't turn it over. The other keys are, we have to execute in our half-court offense, we have to contain Reed and Byrd on penetration, and we can't let them get a lot of second shots."
Rounding out the Mansfield starting lineup are 6-3 Dwaine Lentes (7.4 points, 5.7 rebounds), 5-10 Wil Fortner (5.5 points) and 6-2 Antwoine Smith (8.7 points, 4.9 boards). But coach Gregg Collins (195-40, nine conference titles in 10 years) regularly goes nine deep, using 6-1 T.J. Lindsay, 6-0 Dennis Minard, 6-1 Mel Sutton and 6-3 Tre'Von Lucas.
St. John's is making its 11th regional appearance, including 10 under Heintschel.
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