By DAVE HANNEMAN
Michael Clark knows some people will want to put an asterisk behind the 61-59 score in Findlay’s win over Toledo St. John’s on Tuesday.
But the junior guard also understands the power of winning traditions and the intensity of head-to-head competition, and that’s what defines the game no matter who comes charging out of the other locker room.
“People around the league are probably going to say this is not as good of a win because they didn’t have Marc (Loving),” Clark said.
“But St. John’s is still a good basketball team and a good program, and that’s why this was a great win for us tonight.”
Trailing much of the second half, including 5-point deficits late in the third quarter (44-39) and early in the fourth (47-42), Findlay clawed back into it behind the strong inside play of Joseph Davidson and Austin Gutting and clutch free-throw shooting by Clark.
Davidson, a 6-foot-7 senior, scored six of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-point play after a nice pass from Clark that put Findlay on top 48-47. It was the Trojans’ first lead since Davidson’s put-back made it 18-17 early in the second quarter.
Gutting scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. The powerful 6-3, 236-pound junior scored five points in the fourth quarter, including three free throws that turned a 59-58 deficit into a 61-59 lead in the final 70 seconds. He also grabbed three of his seven rebounds in the final period, the last coming after St. John’s Geno DeMarco missed a short bank shot that would have put the Titans up 61-60 with 3.1 seconds left.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Don’t … lose … the … ball …,’” Gutting said.
“There were only a few seconds left. I knew they were going to foul, so I told myself to stay strong with the ball.”
St. John’s Austin Gardner, who led the Titans in scoring (28 points), rebounds (4), assists (5) and leadership tried to draw a foul when he attempted an off-balance 35-footer at the buzzer, but he did not get the call or the game-winning basket.
Adam Twining scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds as Findlay evened off at 2-2 overall and 1-1 in Three Rivers Athletic Conference play. Clark added 10 points, including a 5 of 6 effort from the line in the final 4:42.
Junior point guard Braden Miller had just two baskets, but both were pivotal.
Findlay had gone 0 for 5 on 3-point attempts since Twining hit two and Clark one in the first quarter. Braden opened the fourth quarter with a trey from the top of the key, though, then hit another with 2:21 to play that put Findlay up 55-49.
Those two 3s were the only shots the 5-8 junior attempted all night.
“Everybody contributed something,” said FHS coach Jim Rucki, who has his team back at full strength after early-season injuries left the Trojans shorthanded at times.
“We’ve got a lot of things we can still get better at. But when you’re thinking about what you have to do and how you have to do it, it’s a lot nicer doing it when you’ve just won a game than when you’ve lost it.”
St. John’s played without Loving, a 6-8 standout considered a definite prospect to win Ohio’s Mr. Basketball Award this season. The Ohio State recruit stayed home with the flu.
The Titans, who had started the season 4-0 overall and 2-0 in TRAC play, were also missing sixth man Chris Stearns, who suffered a cut on his foot after last Friday’s 67-40 win at Fremont Ross.
St. John’s, though, is still St. John’s, a perennial Northwest Ohio power that has compiled a 593-187 record and made six state tournament appearances in Ed Heintschel’s 34 years as head coach.
“(With Loving and Stearns out) our other guys knew they had to do a little extra,” Heintschel said. “It just bumped everybody up into playing a role they were not used to, and that can be a very difficult to do.
“We talked about this being a ‘program game,’ that’s the term we used. We wanted to get the win, we came up short, but I’m proud of the way these guys played.”
Gardner stepped up big for St. John’s, scoring 12 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter.
“He’d smart, he’s tough, he’s the real deal. I think the happiest guy in the gym tonight was Charlie Ernst,” Rucki said, referring to the University of Findlay men’s basketball coach.
Gardner has signed a national letter of intent to play for the Oilers next year.
Anthony Glover finished with 11 points and Tyler Thompson had nine as St. John’s, down 8-1 in the first three minutes of the game, rallied behind solid defense and some key 3-pointers to lead most of the second quarter and all of the third.
“They really proved who they are as a team,” Twining said of St. John’s.
“They proved, you know, that a superstar doesn’t make a team.
“They knew without Loving they had to come in here, play hard and compete … and that’s just what they did.”
toledo st. john’s (4-1, 2-1)
Glover 3-8 4-6 11, Gardner 9-17 6-6 28, Thompson 3-8 2-2 9, Walsh 2-2 0-0 4, Ernsthausen 1-2 3-4 5, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Kynard 0-1 0-0 0, DeMarco 1-2 0-0 2, Copeland 0-1 0-2 0, Petrisso 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19-41 15-19—59.
findlay (2-2, 1-1)
Miller 2-2 0-0 6, Clark 2-8 5-6 10, Twining 5-7 0-0 12, Davidson 5-5 6-9 16, Gutting 5-10 7-10 17, Niswander 0-0 0-0 0, Kairys 0-0 0-0 0, Haynes 0-0 0-0 0, Gobrecht 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19-32 18-25—61.
St. John’s 16 12 16 15 — 59
Findlay 16 10 13 22 — 61
3-Point GOALS: St. John’s 6-17 (Glover 1-4, Gardner 4-9, Thompson 1-3, Kynard 0-1); Findlay 5-10 (Miller 2-2, Clark 1-6, Twining 2-2).
rebounds: St. John’s 17 (Gardner 4); Findlay 27 (Davidson 8, Gutting 7, Twining 6).
turnovers: St. John’s 4, Findlay 11.
junior varsity: Toledo St. John’s, 43-32.