St. John’s Jesuit bolted to an 11-point lead after the first quarter, but the rest was all Central Catholic in Friday night’s boys basketball showdown for first place in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
Central clamped down, holding the Titans to eight points in the middle quarters.
During that defensive stranglehold, the Irish took control and rolled to a 55-37 victory before a sellout crowd of 1,775 at St. John’s.
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The Irish (16-2, 11-1 TRAC) were led by team highs of 14 points and 10 rebounds from senior center Nate Harris.
“I was in the right place at the right time and grabbed every rebound I could grab,” said the 6-foot-6 Harris, who went scoreless with just two rebounds in Central’s 62-59 overtime home loss to St. John’s on Jan. 10.
“We were making unforced turnovers [in first quarter], and coach just told us to take care of the ball. When we did, we were able to attack and score. It’s not over, but this is a big step for us.”
Junior guard Marcus Winters added 10 points, and Central got nine points apiece from DeShone Kizer and Tom Vetter.
“In the beginning we were playing too fast, and DeShone was trying to do too much,” Central coach Jim Welling said. “We just had to let the game slow down a little bit and get ourselves into some kind of rhythm.
“Once they found it, you could see how good we can be at the defensive end of the floor. It was a great team effort.”
St. John’s (15-6, 11-2) got 20 points from senior guard Anthony Glover, Jr., but the rest of the Titans combined for just 17 points as St. John’s hit just 14 of 41 field-goal attempts.
“The coaches are always preaching defense,” Kizer said, “and when you hold them four points in the second quarter and four in the third, that creates your offense. We took our defense, and our patience on offense, and turned that into a comeback.”
The Irish have TRAC games remaining at home against Lima Senior on Sunday, then Findlay on Friday. One win clinches a title share, and two would bring an outright conference crown.
St. John’s seemed poised for a title-clinching win itself early on, as Glover hit three 3-pointers during his 11-point first quarter. In that period, Central committed seven turnovers.
But the quarter break enabled the Irish to regroup, and backup guard Andrew Grombacher’s 3-pointer 1 minute, 21 seconds into the second quarter launched a game-changing 13-0 run.
Kizer’s steal and layup put Central up 22-20, and St. John’s never led again, managing three ties from there.
The Irish led 26-24 at halftime, and Vetter scored all eight of their points in the third quarter, which closed with Central ahead 34-28.
“They came out and face-guarded DeShone and Marcus, and I was wide open,” Vetter said. “They gave me the jumps shots, and I took them and knocked ’em down.”
Vetter’s surge came during a stretch when the ice-cold Titans missed 12 of their first 13 second-half shots. Central continued its domination from there, starting the fourth quarter with a 10-0 surge. The Irish pushed their lead to 44-28 on a bucket from Jermiah Braswell with 4:34 remaining.
“You’ve got to credit their defense,” Titans coach Ed Heintschel said. “We missed some shots, and we missed some free throws. At halftime it was a two-point game, and our body language was not good.
“Maybe we had too much too soon, and — when they came back — we just didn’t respond very well. That’s disappointing, but you’ve got to tip your hat to them They’re in the driver’s seat now.”
The Irish, who shot 10 of 12 from the field in the final period, were 24 of 45 (53 percent) overall. They outrebounded St. John’s 32-20.
Sophomore guard Gabe Kynard added nine points for the Titans, who were just 7 of 27 from the field after the first quarter.