Kyren Bolden of St. John’s sits on the bench with the runner-up trophy after the Titans lost to Massillon Jackson on Saturday night in Akron. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
AKRON — Tournaments are about pairings as much as anything, and St. John’s Jesuit found itself matched with an opponent for which it had no answers.
And unfortunately for the Titans, the elusive basketball state championship will have to wait to least one more season.
Fourth-ranked Massillon Jackson stifled fifth-ranked St. John’s at every turn in a Division I regional final, ending the Titans’ year with a 54-38 decision Saturday night at the University of Akron.
IN PICTURES: Massillon Jackson 54, St. John’s Jesuit 38
Jackson led for final three quarters uninterrupted as St. John’s simply couldn’t establish itself against the Polar Bears’ rangy defense. The Polar Bears held St. John’s to 14 for 45 shooting (31 percent) from the field, and the Titans couldn’t find the outside shooting necessary to stay in the game.
“We had to hit a high percentage of shots, and we didn’t do that,” Titans coach Ed Heintschel said. “We missed all kind of stuff. They had a good game plan defensively that took away some things we normally get, so credit to them.
“They’re big. It’s tough because it just changes everything, changes your mindset.”
Jackson (26-2) proved to be a matchup nightmare for St. John’s (25-3).
Everyone in the Polar Bears’ starting five is 6 feet, 2 inches or taller, which includes two Division I wings who can shoot: 6-foot-7 forward Kyle Young (a Butler signee) and 6-foot-5 Logan Hill (Toledo).
The Polar Bears dictated the game’s terms almost immediately. Jackson blocked four St. John’s shots before the first quarter was at its halfway point, though the Titans were still able to score early in the game, and they briefly took a 10-9 lead.
It would be the Titans’ last lead of the night.
Jackson had the size necessary to guard Titans forward Vincent Williams, Jr., one-on- one, and the space that St. John’s routinely created during its 22-game winning streak wasn’t there against Jackson.
“Our guys did a great job tonight, because I was worried to death,” Jackson coach Tim Debevec said. “They won 22 games in a row, and they have some special players too. Our guys did an outstanding job tonight — unbelievable.
“We defended for 32 straight minutes and held them to 38 points.”
The Titans aimed to compensate for Jackson’s size by dropping guards into the paint, but Jackson hit three 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run it finished in the second quarter.
The Polar Bears shot 5 for 10 from the arc in the game, 15 for 29 from the field, and 19 for 23 from the free throw line.
“You trade off one thing for another, and you give up something,” Heintschel said.
St. John’s trailed by just six at halftime, and did reasonably well on defense given its disadvantages, but the Titans scored only four points in the third quarter as Jackson pushed its lead to 14 after three.
The Polar Bears completed a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter, sending the pro-Jackson crowd into delirium and effectively ending the game. Jackson led by as many as 19, and both sides emptied the benches.
“We missed shots, but they played good defense,” Titans senior Joey Fretti said. “They didn’t give our shooters looks, and they stuck to the scouting report, so credit to them.”
Harrison Riggs led St. John’s with 12 points. Houston King had nine.
Young and Kyle Nicolas both scored 17 for Jackson.
Saturday was an unceremonious end for a St. John’s team that started the season 3-2 only to win its league and play its way into the state’s final eight teams.
“I think if you put each individual person on our team on a different team, they wouldn’t play as well,” Riggs said. “Just the team chemistry we had, you knew that if you made a mistake, everyone else has your back. On this team, you never did anything alone.”
Jackson will play Lakewood St. Edward in the Division I Final Four at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Columbus.
St. John’s ends the season without a trip to Columbus, though Heintschel said he was proud of his team, which he said consistently improved from beginning to end.
“They came so far from where we were in November that it’s really remarkable,” Heintschel said. “The problem is that you remember the last one, and except for one team, it’s tough.
“They have every reason to be proud. They represented us well.”
Harrison Riggs of St. John’s defends Massillon Jackson’s Dillon Dingler on Saturday at the University of Akron. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON