By DAVE HANNEMAN
What might have been a coronation will now be a victory lap.
Toledo St. John’s entered this week needing one win and/or losses by both Findlay and Toledo St. Francis to claim an outright Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship. In the span of about three hours on Tuesday, the Titans got all that and more.
St. John’s did its part on Tuesday, pounding St. Francis 74-47 in a stunning outcome between two state-ranked rivals. With Findlay falling in overtime to Lima Senior, 56-53, on Tuesday, the end result is that St. John’s comes to Findlay on Friday not looking to clinch an outright league title, but with the trophy already in hand.
St. John’s may have started the season 3-2, but Findlay High head coach Jim Rucki is not surprised where the Titans are now.
“They are really good. I’ve thought that since day one,” Rucki said. “That’s why I was shocked they lost to Lima Senior (66-55) early in the season, but they’ve handled everybody else since then.”
St. John’s 18-2 overall, 11-1 in the TRAC and ranked No. 6 among Ohio’s Division I schools, brings a 15-game winning streak into Friday’s game with Findlay (14-6, 8-4).
Tall and talented, the Titans are led by 6-foot-5 junior Vincent Williams II (15.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg), 6-4 junior Houston King (10.9 ppg,) and 6-foot senior guard Harrison Riggs (10.2 ppg). Tycen Anderson, a 6-4 senior, averages just under six rebounds a game. Joey Frettti, a 6-3 senior, doesn’t average double figures but did pump in 15 points when St. John’s topped Findlay 57-47 in a Jan. 13 TRAC matchup in Toledo.
“They have three scholarship kids, two of them with Division I offers,” Rucki said.
“And they have a lot of guys, the so-called role players, who are great athletes and can defend. That’s one of their strengths, their versatility on defense and the way they can guard multiple positions. Vince Williams, their big guy, might switch out and guard your point guard one possession, then drop back and guard your post player the next.
“They are long and active and quick. They have all the attributes of being good defenders.”
Outside of its two losses, Findlay gave St. John’s one of its tougher challenges of the season. The Trojans trailed just 36-34 after three periods, but St. John’s started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run and held on the rest of the way.
“We played them pretty tough up there,” Rucki said.
“They did not shoot well from the perimeter (2 of 15 on 3s), but we gave them too many easy baskets inside, and I know they had a bunch (four) of 3-point plays.”
Despite the loss, Findlay’s game with St. John’s typified a style, a system and a mindset that underscores how the program has now run off 18 straight seasons without a losing record.
Just 4-3 at one point, Findlay won seven straight and 10 of 12 games before Tuesday’s loss, including wins over Ottawa-Glandorf (18-2, No. 5 D-II), Lima Senior (67-56), two over Toledo Central Catholic (54-52 and 44-43) and one over St. Francis (63-61) when the Knights were a top-ten ranked team.
The three losses were to St. John’s, Toledo Whitmer by two (57-55) and to Lima Senior in overtime (56-53).
Some of it can be explained in numbers.
Defensively, Findlay is allowing a tad under 52 points a game, limiting opponents to 27 percent shooting on 3-pointers (89-329) and 39 percent overall (365-933). The Trojans have been outrebounded 572-532, but also have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 16.2-10.9.
“I think we’re taking care of the ball better than other years,” Rucki said. “Our assist-to-turnover ratio is much better.”
But the numbers don’t tell all.
“One thing we’ve asked these guys to do is raise their level of play and I think we’ve done that,” Rucki said.
“Physically, we don’t have the size to match up at all five positions with a lot of teams. But I think our guys have done a really good job of raising our level of competitiveness and toughness.”
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