COLUMBUS — Friday's Division I state basketball semifinal was supposed to be the major test for St. John's Jesuit after failing to cross that hurdle a year ago. Last night's championship game was the anticipated coronation for the Titans.
Sadly, there was no happy ending for St. John's.
The Titans' second straight trip to Columbus ended abruptly and painfully with a 51-48 loss to eighth-ranked Hamilton at Value City Arena.
“It's very frustrating,” said St. John's senior guard Brian Roberts, who rebounded from a sluggish start to score a game-high 18 points and nearly rallied the Titans to a comeback victory in his final high school game. “I thought we had better talent than they did. I thought we were the better team, but we didn't show it.”
With so much anticipation on the Titans getting past Columbus Brookhaven in their semifinal rematch, is it possible they left their best game on the court Friday night?
It was the Titans' lowest-scoring output of the season, the first time they failed to score at least 50 points in a game.
St. John's coach Ed Heintschel wasn't buying that excuse. Neither were his players.
According to Heintschel, his Titans were ready. “You're playing for the state championship,” he said.
For some reason, the Titans didn't start the game the same way they ended it.
“We didn't shoot particularly well,” said Heintschel, who also guided St. John's to the state championship final in 1993 and 1996, meeting with similar results. “And when you're not shooting real well, it's tough to get going.”
Basically, the unranked Titans, who finished with a 23-5 record, never adjusted to Hamilton's slow game pace that placed a premium on every possession.
“We struggled a little bit, but we got ourselves refocused,” said Roberts, who missed six of his seven first-half shots.
“We knew it was a big game,” said Roberts, who will attend the University of Dayton next year. “Everybody came out ready. But they controlled the tempo of the game.”
Hamilton (25-2) attempted only 10 field goals in the second half, converting five shots for 50 percent.
Hamilton was deadly at the free-throw line, draining 13 of 18 free throws (72.2 percent) after halftime as the Titans were forced to foul late to stop the clock.
St. John's exerted precious energy battling back after scoring only four third-quarter points and falling behind 40-32 early in the fourth quarter.
The light finally went on for Roberts. Frustrated and pressing with his shot, Roberts settled down and played like the co-player of the year in Ohio in Division I.
He scored 11 points in the final 1:20 of the fourth quarter, almost bringing St. John's back single-handedly.
Roberts buried a jumper to pull the Titans within 42-39. St. John's student section, which was located behind the Titans' basket, went wild. Everyone wearing St. John's colors suddenly had renewed hope.
A pair of Hamilton free throws made the score 44-39. Then Roberts dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds.
Two more Hamilton free throws made it 46-39 with just under a minute remaining.
Fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, Roberts made all three free throws.
Next, Roberts buried a long triple to cut the deficit to 49-45. On St. John's ensuing possession, Roberts knocked down a jumper, drew the foul and completed the three-point play to make it 50-48.
Roberts did all he could. So did St. John's. It just wasn't enough.