Shooting struggles doom SJ-O in state semifinals

Shooting struggles doom SJ-O in state semifinals

NORMAL — Basketball programs frequently face breaking points during their games.

They are moments that, if not responded to, wind up sinking a team’s chances of coming away with a victory.

For the St. Joseph-Ogden girls’ basketball team, a breaking point was easy to spot during Friday night’s Class 2A state semifinal game against Teutopolis.

As soon as the Wooden Shoes strung together a couple shots, the offensively-tested Spartans were sunk.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Lexie Niebrugge and Olivia Niemerg in the third quarter’s final 61 seconds set off a scoring barrage that sent Teutopolis past SJ-O 50-31 and left the Spartans planning for Saturday’s third-place game at Redbird Arena.

“We had some breakdowns, and we never really recovered,” SJ-O coach Kevin Taylor said. “I don’t know if we ran out of a little bit of energy at the end there either, but things didn’t go our way a couple times.”

As far as filling the buckets went, very little went the way of the Spartans (28-5), who shot 20 percent from the field overall and worse than that in both the second and fourth periods.

After playing the Wooden Shoes (33-4) to an 11-10 deficit through eight minutes, SJ-O converted just five field goals the rest of the night.

“They were coming at us pretty hard,” said Peyton Crowe, SJ-O’s senior wing who finished with nine points and six rebounds. “We weren’t really executing our plays and (weren’t) setting screens for each other. It’s hard to get the ball when you’re not open.”

SJ-O’s lack of offense wasn’t the end of the world, however, for a large stretch of the evening.

Teutopolis didn’t do much more than its foe for almost three quarters, with Claire Bushur’s early 11 points in the paint the Wooden Shoes’ lone highlight. Quite the contrast from when Teutopolis defeated SJ-O 72-39 on Dec. 6.

“It was going to even out,” Wooden Shoes coach Laurie Thompson said. “St. Joe was ready. They took it to us. It was a battle.”

The Spartans’ last real offensive gasp arrived not long out of halftime, when they eliminated deficits of 21-15 and 24-21 on the back of Payton Vallee’s work down low and a three-pointer apiece from Crowe and Hannah Dukeman.

Then, with SJ-O trailing 28-24, Teutopolis delivered the Spartans their breaking point.

Niebrugge and Niemerg connected from distance. Sadie Bueker piled on with 13 points in the final stanza to turn what had been a defensive struggle into a relaxing final few minutes for Teutopolis.

“Those are normal shots that we normally hit,” Thompson said of the critical threes. “That helped these guys relax.”

Bueker wound up with a game-best 17 points to go with Bushur’s 13 points and 10 rebounds. Even though the Wooden Shoes were not at their best until the final quarter, their recent experience at this level — placing third in 2018 — appeared to pay off down the stretch.

SJ-O landed 10 points and nine rebounds from senior Bree Trimble on top of Crowe’s output. The often high-flying duo hit just 8 of 30 shots from the field, including only 2 of 10 from three-point range.

“They’re a good defensive team, and physical in a good way,” Taylor said. “Some of our breakdowns, we didn’t run an efficient offense, and we know we could’ve done a better job executing some of our offensive plays.”

That said, the Spartans at least could hang their hat on their improved performance from earlier this season with Teutopolis.

“The first half was one of the best halves ever (defensively),” Trimble said. “We had it and we were right there with them, and we were so pumped up.”

Taylor expressed hope SJ-O would bring that same fire into today’s 5:30 p.m. third-place game with Hillsboro (29-6).

Though the Spartans are guaranteed their first-ever girls’ basketball state trophy regardless of what happens, third place is just a little better then fourth.

“We will come out strong because we’re not going to want to end on a (loss),” Trimble said, “and that will motivate us even more.”