Kent, OH- Toledo St. John's Jesuit traveled over two hours Saturday to face the Garfield Heights Bulldogs in a must win or go home regional final. Traveling far into a hostile environment on the same day of a game normally doesn't benefit most teams. Titans head coach Mike Schoen had a different approach of thinking regarding preparation for this high stakes matchup.
"I thought it was more important to keep all my players and staff to sleep in their own beds," said the four-year head coach. "I didn't want my players to come out here and not overthink it and just play our game."
The Titans did just that as they smothered the Bulldogs on defense after a hot start from Garfield.
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 9-0 lead behind a corner triple from freshman guard Marcus Johnson and a pair of layups of junior big man DeAndre Jones. The lead didn't last long as the Titans found an offense pace most would consider boring, but effective. They went on a 20-10 scoring run, led by 11 points from senior guard C.J. Hornbeak.
"I hated we got on the run so early," Bulldogs coach Sonny Johnson said postgame. "Usually when teams get up that early, they tend to lose."
Hornbeak thereafter made like difficult on both ends of the floors for the Bulldogs who were playing without two-way senior wing Tommie Benn III.
Benn out with a high ankle sprain suffered against Cleveland Heights in the district finals is seen as arguably the toughest and most experienced guy this far in the season outside junior C.J. Little.
"We've been playing great teams all year and Marcus has been outstanding, but that guy (C.J. Hornbeak) got on Marcus and said I'm not letting a freshman beat me as a senior. He took it personal and played high on both ends." Johnson also said.
Garfield Heights held on to the lead for nearly all of the first half before junior guard Joseph Taylor stole a pass from Little to Sam Brown, taking it coast to coast for a layup. St. John's held a slim 20-19 lead over Garfield Heights at halftime.
Coach Schoen's team showed it's high quality and experience in the second half not allowing Johnson to make a single basket and essentially shutting down the Garfield offense, allowing 19 total points in the half.
The emotions of the game reached a peak as Hornbeak and Johnson had a small situation on the court with Hornbeak on the receiving end a technical foul.
Soon after, Coach Johnson pulled his starters for his reserves, waving the white flag of defeat on the season for the Bulldogs.
"Hats off to St. John's. They played an amazing game. I thought our defensive intensity would be there today and it wasn't." Johnson said postgame
The Bulldogs will have plenty of experience returning next season with one of the best backcourt duos in the area in Marcus Johnson and C.J. Little returning as well as Jones. Their season ends with a record of 22-4. Johnson led the team with 11 points.
The Titans move on to face Akron Archbishop Hoban in the OHSAA Division 1 state semifinal next Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the University of Dayton Arena.