The gym at St. John's Jesuit was packed last night, with 1,600 fans screaming and yelling into a frenzy that gave the Titans' contest with Central Catholic a playoff atmosphere.
But it was hard to tell if St. John's Marc Loving even noticed.
The freshman finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs, to lead St. John's to a 65-61 overtime win over the Fighting Irish.
"I knew it was a sellout," Loving said. "It felt great to get a chance to play against a great team [in Central]. With everybody watching, you just want to perform.
"It didn't feel like pressure ... there were just a lot of people watching."
Loving made the play of the game in the final seconds of regulation, scoring on a rebound basket with three seconds on the clock to send the game into overtime.
"He's a cool customer," St. John's coach Ed Heintschel said of Loving. "I asked him earlier in the week if he was excited, because there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the game.
"He said, 'I'll just get ready to play.' And that's the way he was."
Loving was backed by Cheatham Norrils, who finished with 17 points - 13 coming on free throws - and Jay Springs, who connected on eight free throws to score 10 points.
St. John's made 30 of 40 free throws in the contest to improve to 9-1 overall and 4-0 in the City League.
Central got 17 points from Tony Mays, 16 from Drew Lehman, and
10 from Benjamin Dent. But the Fighting Irish connected on just 14 of 25 free throws, missing 2 of their last 3 in the final 44 seconds of regulation, and fell to 7-1 and 3-1.
The Irish did land the first punch in this brawl, scoring 10 of the game's first 11 points to lead 12-5 after one quarter.
But the Titans scored 22 points in the second quarter - Loving had 10, Norrils nine - to take a 27-25 halftime advantage. And 10 of those points came at the free-throw line, with St. John's making nine in a row at one point.
In the third period Central scored the last eight points of the quarter to lead 41-34. But that advantage dissipated in the fourth quarter thanks to the Titans success at the foul line - they made 8 of 9 to tie the game in the final minutes.
"We just tried to play to our strengths [on offense]," Norrils said. "We kept driving to the basket, trying to make plays. We knew this was going to be a hard-fought battle, but we just kept our focus and stayed together."
Central seemed to take the upper hand when Lehman grabbed a missed free throw and whipped a pass to a wide-open Mays under the basket with 40 seconds, with Mays' bucket giving the Irish a 52-49 lead.
But with Central clinging to a 53-51 lead in the final seconds, Norrils drove to the basket and took a shot that lipped off the iron - right into the hands of Loving, who scored just before the buzzer.
"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Loving said. "I think that was a blessing from the sky."
In overtime Central led briefly when Marty McDonald's 3-pointer gave them a 56-55 advantage with 2:56 left. But St. John's scored five straight points to take control of the game - not to mention sole possession of first place in the CL.
It was a frustrating finish for the Irish, who shot better from the field (22 of 38, 57.9 percent) than from the foul line (56 percent). It didn't help that the Irish committed six of their 15 turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"We did make some unforced errors," Central coach Jim Welling said. "The tempo of the game was where it needed to be, and suddenly we were pitching the ball out of bounds or over-and-back.
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