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John Carroll men's basketball recovers from sluggish first half, runs past Capital

Feb. 17—John Carroll had to sweat out its regular-season finale on Feb. 17 before turning it on against visiting Capital.

It took a while before the Blue Streaks' men's basketball team forged enough breathing room to relax en route to a 74-54 win over the Crusaders. When the final buzzer sounded, JCU celebrated its best-ever regular-season mark of 23-2 and 17-1 in the Ohio Athletic Conference.

Getting to that point wasn't easy. Capital (16-9, 10-8 OAC) took a 26-25 lead into the locker room as it limited the Blue Streaks to one of its lowest first-half point totals of the season.

JCU faced a 10-4 deficit with a little more than 15 minutes remaining in the first half. The next 6 minutes resulted in zero points for the home team as Capital led 12-4.

It wasn't until a Luke Frazier (Lake Catholic) layup at the 9:52 mark that Coach Pete Moran's team could begin to breathe a little easier. But then the next 3 minutes featured another scoring drought until a Henry Raynor layup and Frazier dunk gave the Blue Streaks a boost.

With 4 minutes to play until halftime, Capital — which plays at a slow pace — led, 18-12, before JCU's offense finally got back on track. It scored 13 points in the final 3 minutes and trailed by one at the break.

All of which had Moran worried — but not too worried. For the second straight game, the Blue Streaks played without starting guard Chase Toppin — who was out with an ankle injury.

"I don't think we came out aggressive," said Moran, whose team next hosts an OAC tournament semifinal Feb. 22 against a team to be determined. "And playing without Chase, he really knows how to play with Frazier and (Luke) Chicone. So it took a little bit of time to get a rhythm. We eventually got the game going with our pressure and execution ... the second half we were able to get the style of play we wanted."

Moran said Toppin will return to JCU's lineup Feb. 22 for the OAC tournament.

By the 7-minute mark of the second half, the Blue Streaks pushed its lead to 10 points at 46-36 and never looked back. That gave the packed house at the DeCarlo Varsity Center even more reasons to celebrate on senior day.

It was the final regular-season home game for Jerry Higgins (VASJ), Luka Eller (Lake Catholic) and Connor O'Toole (Gilmour). The big second half — JCU outscored Capital,49-28, in the final 20 minutes — allowed the team to give the seniors a send-off in the closing minutes.

"We kept our composure, and stayed with the game plan," said Higgins, who scored eight points with two steals. "We knew it would work out, and it did in the second half."

Frazier led JCU in scoring with 23 points and also had seven rebounds and four steals. Mentor product Chicone flirted with a triple-double as he finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and added four steals.

Henry Raynor and Will Yontek were also in double-figures scoring with 10 points apiece.

Late in the second, the lead increased to 27 points, and the first-half struggles were officially put to bed.

"It's obviously frustrating," said Frazier about his team's sluggish first 20 minutes. "When you're at this part of the season, you've probably had 180 straight days of practice, you're shooting the ball every day, and right now you should be at your best, and when you can't perform it's hard. But Coach came in at halftime and told us to keep shooting, they'll fall. He was right."

Despite nearly getting 50 points in the second half, JCU struggled overall from the field as it shot 42.9 percent (30 of 70) and just 2 of 12 from 3-point range. Capital struggled as well — 22 of 53 from the floor (41.5 percent) and just 4 of 24 from deep. The visitors didn't help themselves handling the ball as it committed 29 turnovers to just nine for the Blue Streaks.

JCU manhandled Capital in the paint with a 52-26 advantage.

THE SCORE

John Carroll 74, Capital 54