Schluter, Michael key SJ-O victory

Schluter, Michael key SJ-O victory

ST. JOSEPH ­— A Sangamon Valley Conference title isn’t won on a Tuesday night in mid-January.

St. Joseph-Ogden boys’ basketball coach Brian Brooks knows, however, that a Tuesday night loss in mid-January can seriously derail those plans.

SJ-O stayed on track for a possible second straight league title with a close but crucial 55-51 home win against Clifton Central.

“This is a really big one for conference,” said Brooks, whose team plays at Iroquois West tonight in a makeup game before hosting state-ranked Teutopolis on Friday night. “We only play each team in the conference once, so every game is critical. The games we have this week are good games for us to have at this point in the season.”

SJ-O (13-2, 3-0) and its No. 5 ranking in Class 2A were put to the test in the second half against the Comets, who came into the game an unblemished 10-0. The Spartans led 46-35 to start the fourth quarter before the Comets cut their deficit to single digits and made Brooks a bit nervous on the sidelines.

“We didn’t handle the second half real well, but the energy and enthusiasm Clifton Central came out with affected us,” Brooks said. “They capitalized like any good team would.”

But so did the Spartans. Nate Michael led all scorers with 17 points, including two three-pointers in the first quarter to spring SJ-O to an 18-5 lead once the second quarter arrived. Brent Schluter complemented Michael’s outside shooting with 16 points and a game-high 20 rebounds.

“It felt like in the first half he had every rebound,” Brooks said. “He had a great all-around game.”

Tyler Harms added 10 points off the bench. Hunter Hart contributed eight points, and even though Dalton Walsh had only four points, Brooks was proud of the defense his senior guard supplied. Walsh held Clifton Central’s main scoring option, Justin Lemenager, to eight points.

“The key to the game was how Walsh defended,” Brooks said. “I don’t know Lemenager’s exact scoring average coming into the game, but he was well above that.”

Even with the win, Brooks wants to see improvement from his team in handling leads late in the game.  

“That’s the thing we talked about in the locker room,” he said. “We’ve got to play with more energy and enthusiasm, and we’ve got to stick together better through tough times. That’s what made last year’s team (that finished fourth in state) so special is when times were tough, we really came together. That’s what the really good teams do. We’re getting there.”