By DAVE HANNEMAN
Even in tense, physical, gut-check games, Braden Miller seems to have a smile on his face.
And after Findlay knocked off Toledo St. John’s 63-57 on Friday, it’s a good bet it’s going to be planted there for awhile.
“Tonight was a huge game, and seeing us play hard on our home court and finally get a big win over a team like St. John’s, that makes us all smile, especially the seniors,” Miller said.
Miller hit a big 3-pointer and two key free throws in a pressure-packed fourth quarter, Michael Clark and Adam Twining combined for 36 points, and excellent bench depth allowed Findlay to survive some serious foul trouble as the Trojans, for the second straight year, hung a rare Three Rivers Athletic Conference loss on St. John’s.
“Any time you can beat a team like St. John’s it’s a great win,” said Clark, who scored seven points in the fourth quarter and 14 of his 19 points in the second half.
“That loss to St. Francis (40-32) did not help us at all as far as the league goes. But a win like this against such a good team at this time of year, maybe we can get a little momentum going heading into tournament.”
St. John’s, whose other four losses had been to state-ranked teams, fell to 15-5 overall and 11-1 in the TRAC. Toledo Central Catholic beat Toledo St. Francis 60-36 on Friday to improve to 15-2 overall, 10-1 in the TRAC.
St. John’s and Central Catholic square off at St. John’s next Friday. Findlay (15-4, 9-3 TRAC) is at Central Catholic on Feb. 21.
In a Jan. 3 game at St. John’s, Findlay struggled early, fell behind 31-15 at the half and never recovered in a 59-48 loss.
Back home on Friday, Findlay got off to a much better start.
Twining scored six points, Clark five and Grant Niswander four to help Findlay jump in front 15-10. Niswander’s tip-in to open the second quarter put the Trojans up seven (17-10).
St. John’s is too talented, too deep and too steeped in basketball tradition to ever go quietly, though. The Titans trimmed the deficit to 24-23 at the half, overcame Findlay’s 5-0 start of the second half by closing within 39-37 after three quarters, and twice trailed by just four midway through the final period.
Austin Gutting, saddled with foul trouble most of the night, converted an offensive rebound, though, and Miller nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner to put Findlay back up 54-47. Gutting then took a charge and Twining nailed a 3-pointer to make it a 10-point game, 57-47.
St. John’s converted four free throws in an eight-second stretch to cut the deficit to six. But Findlay held on, connecting on 7 of 9 fouls shots in the final 90 seconds to nail it down.
Clark was 2-for-2 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and 4-for-4 for the game. As a team, Findlay hit 8 of 13 3-pointers.
“We need to shoot the ball to be a great team, and we have guys who can make shots,” said FHS coach Jim Rucki.
“Against Central Catholic, we made 1 of 13 3-pointers and lost by three (50-47). Against St. Francis we were 4 of 13 from the free throw line and got beat. Up at St. John’s earlier this season, we couldn’t put the ball in the ocean that first half.
“I knew we’d come out and play hard tonight. I knew we’d compete because our kids were hungry to beat these guys. I was hoping we’d shoot the ball better than last time because when we shoot the ball the way we’re capable of shooting, and with the way we play defense, I knew we’d have a chance.”
“I was not happy with how well Findlay shot the 3, but I was not surprised,” said St. John’s coach Ed Heintschel, who entered the game with 624 career wins, one shy of ninth place on Ohio’s list of the winningest prep boys basketball coaches.
“I know they did not shoot the ball well last week (against St. Francis). They have not shot well at our place. We have a lot of respect for their shooters. They’re an experienced team, they’re at home and you have to expect that.”
“When we played up there, the first quarter kept us from getting the ‘W’” said Twining, who scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
“We knew we had to come and play hard from the get-go. We couldn’t let them get too much momentum going forward, whether that meant a big stop on defense or running our plays and getting an easy basket.”
St. John’s quickness created matchup problems and led to fouls. Gutting picked up two in the first 3:30 of play and Miller and Niswander were playing with four each in the fourth quarter.
“We’re a veteran team,” Clark said. “We have confidence in those guys coming in — Duke (Gobrecht), Nick Kairys, Grant Niswander — that really helps.”
In Friday’s opener, St. Johns upened Findlay 52-46 in the junior varsity contest. Joey Hammond scored 15 points as Findlay’s reserves fell to 17-2 and suffered their first JV loss (11-1) against TRAC opponents
TOLEDO ST. JOHN’S (15-5, 11-1)
Glover 5-15 4-4—16, Kynard 5-7 0-0—10, Walsh 1-2 3-3—5, Ernsthausen 2-9 7-8—12, Vaughn 3-8 0-0—8, Celis 1-4 3-4—6, Moore 0-0 0-0—0, Copeland 0-0 0-0—0. TOTALS: 17-45 1-19—57.
FINDLAY (15-4, 9-3)
B. Miller 2-4 2-2—8, Niswander 3-4 2-2—8, Clark 7-9 1-2—19, Twining 6-14 4-6—17, Gutting 1-4 4-4—6, Gobrecht 1-2 0-2—2, McKinniss 1-4 0-2—3, Kairys 0-0 0-0—0, C. Miller 0-0 0-0—0. TOTALS: 21-40 13-20—63.
Toledo St. John’s 10 13 14 20 — 53
Findlay 15 9 15 24 — 63
3-Point GOALS: Toledo St. John’s 6-24 (Glover 2-8, Kynard 0-2, Celis 1-3, Ernsthausen 1-4, Vaughn 2-7); Find;lay 8-13 (B. Miller 2-4, Clark 4-4, Twining 1-3, McKinniss 1-3).
rebounds: Toledo St. John’s 28 (Ernshausen 7, Celis 5); Find;lay 23 (Twining 8, Gutting 6).
turnovers: Toledo St. John’s 12, Find;lay 10 .
junior varsity: Findlay 60-45.