AKRON - Like any tightly played game, numerous situations and statistics can be broken down, examined, and re-examined from Saturday night's Division I boys basketball regional final at the University of Akron.
But in this case, it is unnecessary to look too deep into why St. John's Jesuit is not making a repeat trip to the state basketball tournament after a 52-50 loss to Massillon Jackson.
The Titans were forced to work hard - often painfully hard - on nearly every offensive possession, and when matters calmed, they were unable to inflict damage at the free-throw line.
Those two elements factored heavily in a loss to Jackson before an announced crowd of 3,120 at Rhodes Arena.
Jackson's lengthy duo of future Mid-American Conference players fueled a suffocating defensive effort that, when beaten on the perimeter, relied on a formidable final line of combat under the basket.
Consequently, St. John's (19-5) was never able to get the easy buckets that Jackson benefited from much of the evening.
"They played really close face guarding," senior guard Jay Springs said. "We tried to set screens to get around them but they played good help defense."
T.J. Gillespie sunk a 3-pointer as time expired to make the score more respectable, but it wasn't as though the Titans were without opportunities.
Trailing 48-45 late in the fourth, St. John's was unable to strike the way it needed to at the line. Cheatham Norrils missed the second of two free throws but possession stayed with the Titans. Springs was then fouled, and like Norrils, made just one of two from the line, cutting the deficit to 48-47. It never got better for
A team that was better than 70 percent from the line all season, the Titans made just eight of 15 attempts. That percentage wouldn't be as damaging had Jackson (23-2) not made a startling 15 of 16 attempts.
"It did play a big part, but even though we missed them we got some [offensive] rebounds," Norrils said.
"Unfortunately we didn't win the game."
Jackson will play Gahanna Lincoln in Friday's state semifinal.
Springs led St. John's with 15 points, and freshman Marc Loving added 12 but just two in the second half when he rarely touched the ball.
Jackson's standout seniors Josh Egner (6-foot-6) and Mark Henniger (6-foot-7) hogged the stat sheet, combining for 41 of the Polar Bears' points and 17 of their 24 rebounds. Henniger, who will play at Kent State, served as a wall under the basket the times that Norrils and Springs dribbled past Jackson's perimeter defenders.
Egner, an Akron signee, caused St. John's problems with his superb athleticism, scoring 24 points. With
1:48 left he caught a lob from Brad DuPont - who was standing well beyond the 3-point line - and finished with his second dunk of the game.
"He was very, very good away from the basket, and very athletic," St. John's coach Ed Heintschel said. "He was able to put the ball on the floor so he really presented multiple problems for us."
Loving played well early, regularly stepping out to attempt jumpers. But for multiple reasons - some the fault of St. John's, others the doing of Jackson - he attempted just two shots over the final two quarters. The Titans shot 43 percent from the field and attempted 10 more shots than the home team.
"It was just really hard to get him the ball," Springs said.
St. John's appeared to be the superior team early on, slashing its way to the basket in taking a 10-4 lead. Soon though, it would be known the teams were very equal as Jackson began playing with improved defensive effort. The score was tied at 16 after the first quarter and at 38 to begin the fourth. The Titans led 30-28 at halftime.
"[I'm] really proud of this team," Norrils said. "I don't think a lot of people expected us to make it this far, but we followed our leaders, Jay Springs and T.J. Gillespie."
Contact Ryan Autullo at:
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