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Maybe it was a hangover from its rivalry loss to St. Francis de Sales in the City League semifinals, or perhaps it was the 10 days it had to wait to get back on the court.
Whatever the case, St. John's Jesuit may have taken a 61-40 victory over Clay in a Division I boys basketball sectional Friday night at Waite, but the Titans (16-4) were far from sharp in doing so.
Regardless, St. John's snapped the two-game losing streak that ended its regular season, and will have a rubber match with St. Francis (14-7) in Thursday's 6:15 p.m. district semifinal at Savage Arena.
The Titans won 60-58 in overtime in league play, and the Knights prevailed 72-63 in the CL playoffs on Feb. 23.
City League champion Central Catholic (19-2) will face Rogers (14-6) in Thursday's 8 p.m. district semifinal at Savage Arena.
For the otherwise cold-shooting Titans, senior guard T.J. Gillespie was hot from long range, mixing five 3-pointers into his game-high 17 points. St. John's also got 10 points from freshman forward Marc Loving, all in the fourth quarter, and nine from senior guard Jay Springs. Loving also grabbed seven rebounds.
"I hope it's rust that wore off, but I don't know," said Titans coach Ed Heintschel. "It wasn't artistic, that's for sure. Not to make excuses, but when you haven't played for 10 days, the reality is no matter how hard you try to practice, it's not the same thing.
"We just have to put it behind us and get ready for Thursday."
The Eagles (3-17), who knocked an 18-point St. John's third-quarter lead down to 40-30 entering the fourth, were paced by 6-6 junior forward Doug Waldmannstetter's 11 points (all in the third quarter) and seven rebounds.
Despite hitting just six of its 18 first-quarter shots - three of those were 3-pointers from Gillespie - the Titans grabbed a 15-6 lead that grew to 23-12 at halftime.
"Luckily they were falling for me tonight," Gillespie said. "We played a decent game but we have a lot of work to do. We just weren't playing with emotion or pride tonight.
"That's something that the [senior] leaders have to get the team prepared for, so I'll take that blame."
With Waldmannstetter doing most of the damage, Clay battled back from the 34-16 deficit that St. John's created on Cheatham Norrils' two free throws with
4:34 left in the third quarter. Bruno Marotta's put-back basket with three seconds left in the third got the Eagles within 10 points.
But, with Loving scoring seven of St. John's nine straight points to open the fourth quarter, Clay's hopes of an upset were dashed.
"The first time we played them they hit seven 3s in the first half," Clay coach Rob Belegrin said. "We didn't think they could shoot it that hot again. We wanted to control the tempo, slow down Springs and Norrils, and not give them any easy layups. We did that for the most part.
"I'm proud of what our guys did, at least controlling the tempo. If we hit some foul shots and not turn it over at key spots, we might have been right there towards the end."
St. John's was 17-of-53 (32 percent) from the field, including 7-of-21 from 3-point range, and a solid 20-of-22 (91 percent) from the line. The Titans forced 20 Clay turnovers but committed 17.
The Eagles, who also got nine points from Taylor Schabel and six apiece from Marotta and Ross Achter, were 15-of-41 from the field (37 percent), 8-of-14 from the line, and matched St. John's 39 rebounds.
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