HOOPESTON — The Class 2A Hoopeston Regional championship game was close.
Then the third quarter started.
Top-seeded St. Joseph-Ogden overwhelmed Bismarck-Henning with its precision three-point shooting in the second half and picked up the pace en route to a 54-27 win against the Blue Devils on Friday night.
Bismarck-Henning (26-7) slowed the pace in the first half, which allowed SJ-O to lead 6-4 at the end of the first quarter and 12-10 with 4:05 left in the second quarter after junior Chase Connelly sank a midrange jumper.
The Blue Devils, however, had no answer for the balance and experience SJ-O has.
Junior guard Nate Michael paced the Spartans (26-3) with a game-high 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three-point range, including two in the third quarter to help SJ-O build a double-digit lead it would not relinquish.
“In the third quarter, we just decided that we were going to go inside-out, and when we got it in the middle of the lane, they collapsed, and the three was wide open,” Michael said. “I just did my job and knocked them down.”
So did his teammates. Senior guard Chase Patton contributed 13 points while junior Brent Schluter (eight points, eight rebounds) and senior Louis Acklin (eight points) complemented the Spartans’ steady guard play.
“It’s pick your poison with them,” Blue Devils coach Jon Clapp said. “You’ve either got to defend the inside and try to get outside or you let the inside go. It’s one or the other. You can’t stop both of them. When Michael starts hitting 6 feet from behind the three-point line, it extends you out so far that you’re kind of at the mercy of them.”
Michael missed out on converting a four-point play when he was fouled after he made a three-pointer to extend SJ-O’s lead to 24-11 with 4:56 left in the third quarter. Connelly — who scored Bismarck-Henning’s first 11 points and finished with that total to lead the Blue Devils — picked up his third foul on the play, starting a game-changing swing in favor of the Spartans. Senior Corbin Hesterberg closed out the third quarter with a layup for SJ-O in the final two seconds to pad its lead to 34-18, and the rout was on.
“They’re very effective in their zone and slowing things down,” SJ-O coach Brian Brooks said of the Blue Devils. “We weren’t hitting the spots that we had talked about wanting to hit in their zone, and in the first half, a couple of our shots looked good, but we just didn’t make them.”
Very true. After shooting 5 of 23 in the first half, the Spartans blitzed Bismarck-Henning by making 16 of 23 (70 percent) in the final two quarters to finish 21 of 46 (46 percent) for the game.
“We were locked in and focused,” Patton said. “We knew we didn’t play as well in the first half as we should have. We knew we just missed some shots that we knew we were going to make the second half, and we knocked them down in the second half.”