Whitmer's Nigel Hayes drives against Northview's Conner Hartnett. Whitmer is now 19-2.
St. John's Jesuit survived an upset scare in double overtime, and Whitmer held on for a win despite a rather pedestrian performance Friday night in a pair of Division I boys sectional basketball finals at Central Catholic's Sullivan Center.
In the opening game, St. John's (15-6) seemed somewhat in control leading by eight after three quarters, but then saw Start (13-8) rally to take the lead before the Titans eventually advanced with a 61-56 victory.
"It's all about survival at this point," said Titans coach Ed Heintschel. "It was pretty frustrating to watch [losing the lead late], but they did survive and hang in there.
"That's what can happen in tournament time. One bad night and you're done. We play Thursday, and we hope we play a little bit better."
The Titans' 6-foot-8 standout guard-forward Marc Loving led the way with 27 points and 12 rebounds to send St. John's to a district semifinal matchup against Whitmer Thursday at Savage Arena.
"Start is definitely a tough team," Loving said. "They're very quick, and we had to just lock down at the end and came out with the victory."
Whitmer's Panthers (19-2), winners of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, took a long time to get untracked, missing eight of their first nine shots from the field against upset-minded Northview (8-14).
But the Panthers' defense provided more than enough effort to enabled Whitmer to march off with a 52-40 win.
LeRoy Alexander topped the Panthers with 14 points, and Ricardo Smith added 12 for Whitmer.
St. John's was in control early on, taking a 15-5 lead after one quarter, but the lead shrunk to 28-21 by halftime after the Spartans' Dion Ivery (15 points) converted a conventional three-point play in the final minute of the half.
The Titans maintained a 41-33 edge after three quarters and bumped the margin to 10 before Start caught fire from beyond the 3-point arc.
Start (13-8), which hit 10-of-26 3-pointers in the game, got a pair from Ivery and a third from Javon Ruffin in a span of 1:13 to get within 45-44 with 5:14 left in regulation.
The Spartans grabbed their first lead of the game at the 4:19 mark when Ruffin (11 points) converted inside off an inbounds pass from Robert Wietrzykowski (seven points, 15 rebounds).
The teams traded one-point leads twice down the stretch before Start failed to convert on a potential game-winning drive from Demond Crisp (19 points) as time expired.
The Spartans would have another chance at winning to close the first overtime, but again a Crisp break to the basket failed and the game went to the second OT tied 56-56.
Unfortunately for the Spartans there would be no more points and they were outscored 5-0 (all on Titan free throws) in the final four-minute extra period.
"The kids played hard," Start coach Gil Guerrero said. "We have a lot of seniors on this team and a lot of them didn't want to go out losing tonight.
"But St. John's came through in the clutch. We had two opportunities at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and we didn't get it done. It just didn't go our way."
Statistically, the game was won by St. John's at the foul line, where the Titans hit 28-of-35 (80 percent) in the game, compared to just 10-of-14 for the Spartans.
Austin Gardner added nine points for St. John's, including the game-clinching free throws with 9.8 seconds remaining. Tarvis Malone contributed 13 points for the Titans.
The second sectional final opened with both Whitmer and Northview struggling to score, and the first quarter closed with the Panthers on top just 7-3.
But Whitmer began attacking the basket more frequently in the second quarter and outscored the Wildcats 18-8 to take a 25-7 edge to halftime.
"It's just survive and advance," Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. "That's all it is. We wanted to play into next week. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win, and we'll take it and we'll move on."
How did his Panthers finally get untracked?
"Just making a shot," Smith said. "We only had three turnovers at halftime, so we took care of the ball. We shot the ball like we normally do -- poorly -- but we just had enough points to win. That's about it."
Northview, which would heat up shooting after halftime, struggled to a 5-of-17 effort before the break.
But there was no quit in the Wildcats, who trailed 39-25 after three quarter before making a mini surge midway in the final period to get within 44-34 on a bucket from Conner Hartnett (14 points) with 4:01 still to play.
Northview would hit 13 of its 19 second-half shots, but it was not enough to make a serious run.
"We usually penetrate first, and we were shooting a lot of 3s and missing a lot of 3s," Alexander said. "So, we decided to attack the rim.
"Us attacking helped bring them out of their zone, and they decided to [play] man [to] man, and we went to a weave. That opened up a lot of things inside."
Whitmer, which also got eight points from Luke Hickey and six points and eight rebounds from Nigel Hayes, was 20-of-45 (44 percent) from the field and 7-of-10 from the line. The Panthers were outrebounded 27-23 by the smaller Wildcats, who were 18-of-36 (50 percent) from the field and just 4-of-9 at the line. Northview committed 13 turnovers and forced Whitmer into just seven giveaways.
"We really wanted to try and spread them out, and they got up and pressured us a little bit," Northview coach Terry Shadle said. "That pressure caused us too many turnovers in the first half.
"Part of our goal was, if they came up on us [defensively] to try to go by them. But they did a pretty good of not letting us go by them. When we did, good things happened. But we were just too much east and west rather than north and south trying to get to the basket."
Jeff Czerniakowski and James Racicot added eight points each for Northview, and Racicot had eight rebounds.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.
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