In a season that has otherwise seen parity and a wide-open chase for playoff spots in boys City League basketball, defending champion and preseason favorite St. John's Jesuit is living up to that forecast.
The Titans (15-2, 10-0 CL) remained unbeaten in league play and locked up the No. 1 seed for Tuesday's semifinals by topping visiting Whitmer 61-46 last night.
Marc Loving, the Titans' talented 6-foot-7 freshman, scored all 17 of his points in the first half, including eight in a span of 62 seconds in the second quarter to give St. John's a cushion it never lost.
“Marc got into a great groove there and hit shots,” St. John's coach Ed Heintschel said. “He's so good about not forcing it. A couple times he got the ball when he was red hot and he gave it up, and guys found him again.
“He just has a really high basketball IQ, and he knows how to play the game and make his teammates better. He keeps getting better every day.”
Junior point guard Cheatham Norrils had 14 points and eight rebounds, and senior guard Jay Springs added 10 points in the victory.
The Panthers (13-4, 7-3) will be the No. 3 seed for the playoffs and face Central Catholic (14-2, 8-2) in Tuesday's 8:30 semifinal at Savage Arena.
The final spot remains up for grabs among St. Francis de Sales, Libbey, and Rogers, all of which stand at 6-4 in CL play. That winner, which could be determined by a tie-breaker, will face St. John's at 6:30 Tuesday at Savage Arena.
The Titans and Panthers used the first quarter last night to spar a bit, with St. John's holding an 18-17 edge entering the second period.
Whitmer was within 22-20 after Franklin Lindsey hit a 3-pointer in the game 2:08 into the second quarter.
But Loving answered with a three-point play 25 seconds later. And after freshman Nigel Hayes got the Panthers back within 27-24 on a pair of free throws 4:21 before halftime, Loving gave what proved to be an early knockout punch.
First, he hit a fallaway 10-footer at the 3:16 mark. Next, he drained a 3-pointer from the right wing at 2:48. Finally, his 3-pointer from the left corner gave the Titans a 35-24 lead with 2:14 left in the half.
“He was feeling it, so we knew we had to get it to him,” Norrils said of Loving's hot streak.
Whitmer would make a mini-run to open the third quarter, trimming the deficit to 36-31 on a Ken Hayes put-back basket 1:45 into the period. But Springs broke a six-minute St. John's drought with a 3-pointer at the 4:32 mark to get the Titans back on track.
Lindsey topped the Panthers with 13 points, and Nigel Hayes added nine.
“We're not happy with basically anything,” Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said of his team's performance. “We didn't defend well enough and we didn't do the things we needed to do offensively. We didn't pass, we didn't catch — nothing.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461.