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The Rogers Rams’ 66-55 upset victory over fifth-ranked St. John’s Jesuit in the Division I boys district basketball semifinals ended at Savage Arena at 7:42 Thursday night.
But the Titans’ chances at advancing to Saturday’s district final here had already gotten a serious jolt at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, when senior point guard Austin Gardner suffered a severe right ankle sprain late in practice.
That injury was of little concern to Rogers (17-7), which capitalized, and overcame a 29-point, 13-rebound, four-assist effort from the Titans’ 6-foot-8, Ohio State-bound senior forward Marc Loving, who played his final high school game.
Trailing 33-28 at halftime, the unranked Rams broke things open with a 15-6 third quarter, then continued their momentum. Rogers (17-7) got 18 and 17 points, respectively, from the veteran senior guard duo of Clemmye Owens and Tony Kynard in moving on to Saturday's final against ninth-ranked Central Catholic.
PHOTO GALLERY: Rogers gets upset win over St. John's
The Irish (19-5) advanced by edging 10th-ranked Whitmer 43-41 in Thursday’s second semifinal. The Panthers had beaten Central twice during the regular season, and Rogers had lost to St. John’s.
“In the first half we missed some easy shots, and we just told the seniors ‘You’ve got 16 minutes or your season’s over with,’ ” Rogers coach Earl Morris said.
The balanced Rams, who also got 12 points from DeVonte Pratt and 10 from Tribune Dailey, forced seven of St. John's 19 total turnovers during the pivotal third quarter. They closed the game out successfully despite missing 10 of its 19 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts, and going 11-for-24 at the line in the game.
“We were able to pull it off because we were able to maintain focus,” Owens said. “Teams are used to us running and gunning when we have a lead, and the whole week at practice we worked on eeeeeeeeeesituations with the lead and slowing the ball down.
St. John’s carried the play early on, leading 17-12 after one quarter, and taking a 33-28 edge to halftime.
But Rogers went on the attack from the outset in the third quarter, repeatedly getting the basket on drives. The Rams took their first lead of the game at 37-36 on a free throw from Dailey with 3:46 left in the third quarter.
The Rogers momentum continued, and St. John’s never regained the lead, trailing 43-39 entering the final period.
“We had to get the momentum on them in the third quarter, because, if they had the lead in the fourth, they were going to take the air out of the ball,” Morris said.
Two Kynard free throws put the Rams up 51-43 with 5:05 to play and, after Chris Stearns hit a 3-pointer for St. John’s, Owens answered with a 12-foot bank shot.
The Titans, who shot 37 percent (19 of 51) from the field, never got closer than five points from there. Rogers was 26 of 58 (45 percent) from the field.
“We were focused at practice,” Kynard said. “The coaches told us, if we shot a lot of 3s, we’d beat ourselves, like we did the first time. We knew if we got to the hole, they couldn’t stop us.”
Stearns, who started in place of Gardner, added 12 points for St. John's, which had won its previous 12 games.
“It got real physical and the game speeded up a little bit,” St. John’s coach Ed Heintschel said. “We had a real difficult time scoring, and that was it. They rebounded the ball a lot better in the second half and that hurt us a lot.
“It’s disappointing but, at the same time, we lost to a quality team that played better than we did tonight.”
Loving, a two-time district player of the year and Ohio’s 2012 state co-player of the year, closed his four-year with school records of 1,678 points and 798 rebounds.
The third time was the charm for Central, which shook off two Three Rivers Athletic Conference losses to the Panthers. Central regrouped at halftime and outscored Whitmer 25-15 after the break.
Trailing since late in the first quarter, the ninth-ranked Irish steadily chipped away at Whitmer's 26-18 halftime lead with solid defense and timely execution on offense. The Panthers hit just four of their 21 field-goal attempts (19 percent) after halftime.
“We really stepped it up on defense [after halftime],” Central coach Jim Welling said. “They didn’t get anything easy. Our communication of screens was better and we had an understanding that, if they were going to shoot, they were going to have to shoot over us.”
Central took the lead 38-35 on a 3-pointer from Deontae Cole (six points) with 5:07 remaining, and held onto it down the stretch. Center Keith Towbridge led Central with nine points and 11 rebounds, and teammates Nate Harris and C.J. Bussey added eight points apiece for the Irish.
“Central’s a great opponent, both teams are highly competitive, and I figured it would be close,” said Bruce Smith, who was coaching the final game of his 22-year career at Whitmer. “I wish we would’ve had a little more them at the end, and we didn’t.
“They had demons or leprechauns or something on the rim. I don’t know how many layups we missed in the second half when we were up eight or nine or 10, and had opportunities to maintain that kind of lead.”
Whitmer’s 6-foot-7 forward Nigel Hayes topped the Panthers with 14 points and six rebounds.
Hayes missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds, Panther guard Ricardo Smith rebounded along the left baseline, and then appeared to be fouled as he attempted a 14-footer to tie the game. But no call was made, and Central held on to advance to play Rogers.
Central was 17 of 39 (44 percent) from the field in the game, Whitmer 14 of 41 (34 percent)
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.