Seniors (from left) Andrew Taylor, Jonathan Dunn, Mike Floyd and DeAndre Ware have led St. John s back to the state tournament for the third time in four years.
In a 13-day span in February, St. John s Jesuit gave little indication of what was in store less than a month later.
The Titans a solid 14-2 before that stretch lost three of four games to close the regular season looking very much like the third-place City League team they were predicted to be.
On Feb. 10, St. John s fell 52-49 to St. Francis de Sales, its first loss to the Knights in six years. A week later, coach Ed Heintschel s Titans lost to Scott 57-53.
In the CL semifinals on Feb. 21, the Titans managed a 44-42 win over sixth-ranked St. Francis (17-2), then gave Scott s fifth-ranked Bulldogs all they wanted in the title game before losing 56-51 in double overtime, finishing the regular season with a 15-5 record.
That losing skid might well have deflated the Titans and set up a quick postseason exit. But, thanks to the efforts of its four senior starters, St. John s used that dismal stretch as motivation.
Six tourney wins later including district triumphs over St. Francis (18-3) and Scott (21-2), and regional wins over second-ranked Mansfield Senior (22-2) and Strongsville (20-5) the Titans (21-5) have reached the D-I state semifinals and earned a matchup with top-ranked, defending state champion Canton McKinley (23-2) tomorrow at 5:15 p.m. in Columbus.
Mike Floyd, Jonathan Dunn, Andrew Taylor and DeAndre Ware are the only four seniors on St. John s 14-player tournament roster. Each has delivered something necessary to their team s sudden turnaround.
With their house about one-third of a mile away, the gym at St. John s has been sort of a home away from home for the three sons of Bob and Joanne Floyd.
First there was Eric Floyd, a hard-nosed, athletic scrapper who played varsity for three seasons beginning in 1993-94. Eric played on three CL title teams, and he helped the Titans reach the D-I state title game as a senior when he led St. John s with 17 points in a 59-56 loss to Cincinnati LaSalle.
John Floyd was a three-year starter at guard, and earned All-Ohio first-team honors as a senior, when he led St. John s to a 20-0 regular season and D-I state poll championship. The Titans finished 25-1, stopped one win short of the state semifinals when Lakewood St. Edward meshed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the regional final. John went to Oakland University for one season before transferring to Bowling Green.
Mike Floyd, 5-10 point guard, is the last of the brothers and has been asked to shine in different ways than Eric and John. A third-year varsity player, Mike s crucial duties include ballhandling, distribution and solid perimeter defense.
The guy who had to sacrifice a whole lot for us to be really good [as a team] this year was Mike Floyd, Heintschel said because he had to be the fourth option.
Here s a two-year starter who played in a state championship as a sophomore and dressed [at state semis] as a freshman. He s had a lot of experience and had brothers who had played before him who scored more.
But we expected him to accept the fact that he would be a defensive guy and a ballhandler and get his points where he can. He accepted that role and we never heard a peep out of him about that. He s done a great job for us.
Whenever we played one-on-one when I was younger, they d always whoop on me, Mike said of his brothers. The games got closer as I got older, but they are two good players. It s tough to live up to that.
I tried not to think about it too much and just play my style of game. I definitely have the team accomplishments on them.
Dunn, a 6-3 guard, played on the varsity as a sophomore when the Titans lost to Hamilton 51-48 in the 2004 D-I state title game. Having transferred from Kentucky after his freshman year, Dunn showed solid skills in practice which didn t always surface in games.
He was a top backup last season when a fifth-ranked Titan team won a fourth straight City championship, but lost to Scott in the district final.
This year, Dunn s role changed from role-playing backup to the team s top offensive option. His ability to carry the load was displayed in a four-game stretch when starting junior guard Joe Jakubowski was out with a leg injury. Dunn responded with 29, 29, 30 and 30 points in four wins.
He has earned first-team All-City, All-Blade and all-district honors, as well as a spot on the All-Ohio second team.
I had doubts here and there, Dunn said of reaching state, but I thought to myself that it was possible. I don t know what the rest of the guys thought, but I believed that we could make it if we all wanted to.
Dunn leads St. John s in scoring at 18.8 points per game, and contributes 4.8 rebounds.
Jonathan has developed into the player I thought he could be all along, Heintschel said. To be honest, he probably underachieved prior. But he has stepped up his senior year. He s been a really good player for us in every respect, and he s provided leadership.
Taylor, a 6-7 forward, was pressed into service early in his career. When standout Titan forward Zach Hillesland missed 10 games with a knee injury early in 2003-04, the sophomore became a starter.
Taylor filled a void until Hillesland returned, St. John s advanced to the D-I state final that year, and the sophomore gained valuable experience.
Last season, Taylor was a starter, but still played in the shadows of senior All-Ohioans B.J. Raymond and Hillesland. Still, his work was enough to land a scholarship at Hillsdale College.
As a senior, trying to fill the shoes of Raymond and Hillesland, Taylor for much of the season played a good half here and there, but couldn t seem to produce a breakthrough game. It finally came in the district semifinals against St. Francis, when his 26-point, nine-rebound effort propelled the Titans from an early 13-point deficit to a 64-56 win.
It s win or go home basically, Taylor said, and the coaches told me to take it one game at a time. They really worked with me to put together two good halves because all season I was just struggling, either in the first half or the second.
Since then, he has been a key producer in three more tourney wins.
Andrew Taylor has always been a good player, Heintschel said. I think it was hard for him to do a whole lot with the presence of Zach and B.J. His [career] stats would have been better but, with those two guys, there s only so much to go around. The last few games he s been outstanding.
When this basketball preseason began, 5-8 guard Ware did not figure greatly in Heintschel s plans. Having seen only limited playing time as a junior, Ware was best known for his football prowess.
An All-City, All-Blade and all-district tailback, Ware carried for 1,448 yards and scored 14 touchdowns for an 8-3 Titan team that reached the state playoffs.
But Ware cracked the starting lineup to open the season and stayed there, becoming a defensive stopper on opposing guards and providing 5.0 points and 1.4 steals per game.
It was hard going from football to basketball, Ware said. But, as the season went on, I just became more adapted to playing basketball. My role was to be a defensive stopper, and I knew that.
After Darryl Roberts of St. Francis lit St. John s up for 12 first-quarter points in the district semis, Ware was assigned to guard him. Robert had just eight points over the final three quarters. In the district final against Scott, Ware held all-district guard Kyle Lightner to two points.
In the regionals, Ware did stellar work against district player-of-the-year Rashad Reed of Mansfield and again in the second half against Strongsville s Kyle Brown, who is eight inches taller.
Probably the surprise of the group is DeAndre, Heintschel said. He was kind of a bubble guy to make it, and what role he would play if he did? But he got in the starting lineup and stayed there. Down the stretch here he s been terrific.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.