March 5, 2010

Courtesy of John Carroll

One of the hallmarks of past NCAA tournaments for the John Carroll men's basketball team has been its ability to win first round games.

On Friday night in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Blue Streaks continued their first round modus operandi with a convincing 88-67 victory over Maryville College. The win marked the ninth opening round triumph by JCU in its last ten Division III championship appearances.

"We were mentally ready to go tonight," said John Carroll sophomore center Matt Crozier, who led all players in both scoring (20) and rebounding (11). " We looked to play pressure defense up and down the court and it worked. Our strong defense was the key tonight".

John Carroll trailed just once all night, and that was in the opening five minutes of the contest. Eryk Watson hit a three ball at the 17:01 mark that put the Scots ahead 5-4. Chris Zajac's lay-up 90 seconds later would erase Maryville's only lead.

Despite being out front for the majority of the game, JCU did not start to pull away from the Scots until the final nine minutes of the opening period. After Maryville tied the score at 16-16 on a jumper by Greg Hernandez with 9:48 on the clock, John Carroll would embark on a 17-4 run that was bookended by a pair of Rudy Kirbus three point field goals. The second trey gave JCU a 33-20 advantage with 3:53 showing on the clock.

The Blue Streaks would take a 43-31 lead, and confidence in their game plan, into the break.

"We knew that in the second half, if we could play like we did in the first, we'd win," said head coach Mike Moran. "The guys did a great job of shutting down Watson and Hernandez. That's where we excelled."

Maryville never got closer than 11 points over the duration of the second half, the last occasion occurring with just under ten minutes to play. Jared Laverdiere dropped in a lay-up to pull the Scots to within 65-54, but the Blue Streaks answered with a 9-0 run and Maryville never threatened again.

Moran was impressed with his team's wire-to-wire intensity.

"It was a great team effort, so everyone deserves credit for the work they put in tonight," said Moran. "But I don't mind singling out a tone setter. Pat Sweeney was simply fantastic. He was the guy that set the tone on the defensive end with his aggression. On the whole, the guys forced the pressure on the defensive end and chased down all the loose balls."

In addition to Crozier, Corey Shontz (17) and Joey Meyer (12) also scored in double figures as the Blue Streaks shot 32-58 (.552) from the field, including 9-20 (.450) from three-point range.

Maryville, whose season ends at 23-5, was paced by 15 points from Watson and 13 from Hernandez. But the duo shot just 8-20 from the field.

"The credit goes to our film work," said Crozier. "We studied their tendencies and knew that we had to play lockdown defense against their two scorers Watson and Hernandez."

John Carroll, which improved to 21-6 with its 12th win in the last 13 games, will advance to the second round Saturday night and will play either host Guilford College or Christopher Newport.