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John Carroll men's basketball dominates Marietta, will play Mount Union in OAC tournament championship game

Feb. 22—Step 1 for the John Carroll men's basketball team in the postseason is complete.

Next up is Mount Union in the Ohio Athletic Conference men's tournament championship game. The No. 3-ranked Blue Streaks took care of business Feb. 22 with a dominant 88-69 win over visiting Marietta in an OAC semifinal before a packed house at the DeCarlo Varsity Center.

The Feb. 24 OAC final matchup will be the third meeting between JCU (24-2) and the Purple Raiders (20-6). JCU won the two regular-season matchups — a huge home win then a come-from-behind result in Alliance. Tip-off for OAC title game is 2 p.m. in University Heights.

An automatic bid to the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament will be on the line. Win or lose, the Blue Streaks are a lock for the NCAA tournament but they didn't look like a team ready to settle for an at-large selection.

JCU built a 14-point first-half lead then tacked on more early in the second half to end any hopes of a Pioneers' comeback. In the process, the Blue Streaks exorcised a few demons dating back to last season.

The finish by @luke_frazier5 ... as Bill Rafftery says 'call the chiropractor!!!'@JCUMensHoops leads Marietta at half 47-30 @jcusports @NHPreps #d3hoops

Frazier and @lukechicone each with 14 points pic.twitter.com/doLqQXTcHW

— Mark Podolski (@mpodo) February 23, 2024

A year ago at this time, the Blue Streaks were the No. 1 seed in the OAC tournament and played Marietta in a semifinal game, which they led by 19 points at halftime. Marietta played inspired in the second half and rallied for a huge upset victory. JCU made sure there was not a repeat.

"This one was definitely personal," said JCU guard Chase Toppin, who returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury and had five points and five assists. "We knew what last year was about and we came in with a mindset to throw that first punch in the first four minutes."

That's how it played out. The Blue Streaks led, 14-1, minutes into the game, then 24-10 at about the 10-minute mark. But Marietta hung around and chipped away at that advantage. A few minutes later, it was 28-22 but the home team responded with a 19-8 run to close out the first 20 minutes for a 47-30 halftime lead.

Then in the second half's first two minutes, JCU started on a 9-2 run capped by a Luke Chicone 3-pointer and it was 56-32.

.@lukechicone and @JCUMensHoops leads Marietta 28-19 @jcusports @NHPreps #d3hoops pic.twitter.com/HnjhftRShG

— Mark Podolski (@mpodo) February 23, 2024

"We were in this position last year and things didn't go as planned and we're just using that as fuel," said Mentor product Chicone, who had 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. "Whether we get that first punch and we're up 15 or 20, we're not taking our foot off the gas."

.@lukechicone with the finish @JCUMensHoops @jcusports @NHPreps @TCPPhotoCLE pic.twitter.com/PWjsL8yF8n

— Mark Podolski (@mpodo) February 23, 2024

Luke Frazier (Lake Catholic) was the game's leading scorer with 26 points on 11 of 18 shooting from the floor. He added seven rebounds.

.@luke_frazier5 for 3 and lead balloons to 74-44 vs Marietta @jcusports @NHPreps #d3hoops pic.twitter.com/XJksMbJqIH

— Mark Podolski (@mpodo) February 23, 2024

From the outset, the Blue Streaks were amped. Their energy translated to smothering defense in the first five minutes when the lead was 14-1. Marietta (26 of 65, 40 percent) struggled finding the basket for most of the night, and those misses translated to several chances in transition — chances JCU didn't miss.

Coach Pete Moran said Marietta having to travel to Otterbein on Feb. 20 for an OAC quarterfinal, then travel even farther north to University Heights played a big role in his team's result.

"I thought our guys were well-rested," said Moran. "I guess that's the storyline, the energy. Obviously having the student body (in the crowd), I can't thank them enough ... our guys feed off that energy, and it was obvious tonight."

Ten players scored for JCU. Will Yontek had nine points and six rebounds, and Henry Raynor and David Gentry each added seven points.