Ryan Berger propels JCU to late season success after slow start


JCU Sports Information

Ryan Berger

Kyle Kelly, Sports Editor

In 2017-18, the John Carroll University men’s basketball team became the team to beat in the Ohio Athletic Conference.

The Blue and Gold won the OAC Tournament on their home court with the efforts senior tournament MVP Matt Cshuran leading the way, scored 100 points in a single game a dozen times, and made a run into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Impressive on all accounts.

Coming into the 2018-19 season, aspirations were strong for the Blue Streaks. They were picked to finish first in the conference and were initially ranked 20th in the D3Hoops.com pre-season poll. Despite the hype, the season did not start the way the JCU thought and hoped it would.

John Carroll got off to a hot start, winning their first three games of the regular season — the success would not sustain.

JCU lost their following three games and meanwhile, lost OAC All-Tournament team guard Ryan Berger to injury. During that stretch without Berger, the Blue Streaks posed a 2-4 record in the OAC and became the conference’s biggest surprise — for the wrong reasons.

Although the season started slow, the Blue Streaks are starting to make noise.

Since the return of Berger, JCU has beaten nationally ranked Capital, beat first place Mount Union and routed Muskingum — Berger scored a career-high 32 points in that game against the Fighting Muskies. They took Baldwin Wallace to overtime, despite being down 19 points and nearly upset No. 10 Marietta before the Pioneers shot 60 percent from three point in the second half.

“Everyone is playing together with Ryan back. His experience and leadership has carried over to the younger guys and has taken the load off our veterans,” team manager Ryan Hite ‘21 told The Carroll News.

One of those young guys that has succeeded with Berger in the lineup is sophomore Luke Hippler. He is averaging 16 points a game when starting alongside Berger.

Hippler told the Carroll News, “For me personall,  I think I’ve benefitted from his aggressiveness getting into the paint and being able to get it to me down low for easy finishes. Just having him on the floor has given me a lot of confidence and helped me play my game aggressively.”

Berger may not be the be all-end all key to success for the Blue Streaks but he is pretty darn close. The Blue Streaks are simply just a better basketball team with him.

“Having Ryan back has been huge for us. He has the ability to get into the paint or spread the floor with his shooting. I think he makes everyone around him better and attracts a ton of attention when we are on offense,” said Hippler.

As JCU closes out the season, they will be fighting for a spot in the tournament and looking towards the leadership of Berger to do so.

“We have playing good basketball. We have to limit the team’s best players on the defensive end. We have to be in attack mode offensively,” Berger told The Carroll News.

The Blue Streaks have three games remaining in the regular season to stand a fighting chance of making another run like last year’s.

We are putting the pieces back together, but we still have a new attitude and confidence within this year’s group. We are gaining our swagger back,” said Sean Flannery.

For a team that is catching fire at the right time, swagger back and Ryan back … indeed.