Spartans drop heartbreaker
BLOOMINGTON — This is a game Brian Brooks won’t forget. Nor does he want to.
“It’s a great learning experience about how critical every possession is,” the St. Joseph-Ogden boys’ basketball coach said.
On a day his Spartans scored the first 13 points — 11 in a row coming from Nate Michael — the outcome wasn’t settled until the last shot was attempted Monday.
That buzzer-beating 14-footer by Reilly Owens was good, and Chillicothe IVC captured third place in the small-school division of the State Farm Classic with a pulsating 41-40 triumph.
Dalton Walsh capped SJ-O’s comeback from a four-point final-quarter deficit by hitting two free throws with 4.3 seconds to go. His shots lifted SJ-O into a 40-39 lead.
“The way we guarded the last play wasn’t bad, but we can’t let their best player get the ball,” Brooks said.
Owens scored 20 points and was the only IVC player with more than four points.
As Brooks reflected on the Spartans’ second successive loss after an 11-0 record to start the season, he said, “you can pick any possession and say that was the difference.”
SJ-O had plenty — besides the Walsh free throws — to show why it was in position to win.
There was a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jake Pence — the only shot he attempted — to end the first half.
There was Michael’s scoring outburst to start the game. He had 16 points after 10:23 of action, and the Spartans led 18-9. All three of his three-pointers came in that stretch.
There was a three-pointer by Brent Schluter as the game clock ticked down to the final minute, bringing the Spartans within 39-38.
Brooks said there was little comparison in the way his team played Monday at the Shirk Center and the way it played Saturday in suffering its first loss.
“We’re in a better spot tonight,” Brooks said. “We showed more togetherness. We showed hunger and more communication. The focus is better. I like where we’re at.”
SJ-O will enter the New Year with more games played (13) than practices as a full team since football ended (12). The Spartans will continue basketball workouts on Friday.
There were also reasons SJ-O wasn’t able to continue its early-game scoring onslaught.
Of the team’s 40 field goal attempts, 23 were from three-point range. Brooks wasn’t bothered too much by the distribution of shots.
“We’d rather have gotten a few more shots in the paint,” he said. “The three-pointers weren’t bad, but in the second half we weren’t getting them in rhythm.”
After halftime, SJ-O was 1 for 12 from beyond the arc.
Michael — who stepped on the line while shooting a free throw and had one third-quarter conversion disallowed — led the Spartans with 19 points. Schluter had seven. Walsh (seven) and Schluter (six) were the team’s top rebounders.
Schluter’s first basket on Monday put him over 1,000 career points.
Normal Community 42, Mahomet-Seymour 38. The Bulldogs were limited to seven points in the first 13 minutes, shot 23.8 percent from the field during the first half (5 for 21) and trailed by as many as 16 late in the third quarter before pulling within two in the final minute of the large-school third-place game at Illinois Wesleyan University.
“Our kids off the bench in the second quarter set the tone,” M-S coach Chad Benedict said. “It was a little frustrating other guys didn’t come out with that much energy.”
After taking a 5-2 lead following a Christian Romine basket in the first three minutes, M-S managed just two points during the next 12:35 and faced a double-digit deficit.
Joe Kenney and Grant Farchmin were Benedict’s first two substitutions. They were followed in the second period by Josh Brooks, Colton Anderson and Daniel Roberson.
Benedict didn’t let the outcome affect the good feelings he had during the team’s run in the 16-school event.
“We were seeded 12th and had the best finish we’ve had here (fourth),” Benedict said. “We played some good teams, and this was a real positive tournament for us.
“We can be really good. We’ve got a lot of pieces in place. Consistency is the key. When we don’t score, we don’t play through that really well.”
Conner Diedrich (game-high 15 points) sparked the late rally. He scored eight points in the final 6:58 and the Bulldogs (6-6) pulled within 38-36 when Diedrich made two free throws with 35 seconds remaining.
Normal Community’s Duane Farrington — who was scoreless — made four straight free throws in the last 31.8 seconds as the Ironmen (8-5) hung on.
“I’m proud that the kids didn’t lay down, but I can’t get past that start,” Benedict said.
Romine had eight points and a team-high six rebounds.
No M-S athletes were named to the all-tournament team, but Centennial’s Michael Finke was a selection.