SJ-O edges STM for SVC crown
CHAMPAIGN — The battle for a share of the Sangamon Valley Conference crown came down to one shot.
Unfortunately for St. Thomas More, it didn’t go in, and St. Joseph-Ogden escaped with a 61-58 win Friday night.
“To win the conference championship two years in a row I thought was a big accomplishment by these guys,” SJ-O coach Brian Brooks said.
It was not easy.
From the opening tap, every SJ-O run was met with a St. Thomas More response.
“They compete,” said Spartans guard Nate Michael, who poured in a game-high 31 points.
“They refuse to lose, and those are the games you want to play in, especially right before the postseason.”
The Spartans jumped ahead 6-0 before the Sabers responded with a 7-0 run. Neither team built a lead bigger than five after that opening sequence. They were tied 28-28 at the half.
The score was 35 all midway through the third quarter before Michael took over. He scored eight straight, including two three-pointers, to fuel his team’s 10-2 run to end the quarter. The Spartans led 45-37 after three.
St. Joseph-Ogden started the fourth quarter with another basket to give it a 10-point lead, its biggest of the game.
The Sabers didn’t go away.
Doug Wallen’s basket with 4:27 to go capped off an 8-2 run that pulled the Sabers within four.
“There’s no quit in any of these guys,” STM coach Matt Kelley said.
The Sabers had a couple of chances to tie the game.
With just over two minutes left, Storm Joop missed a free throw with his team down one.
The Sabers went 3 of 8 from the line in the fourth quarter. Michael went 9 of 10 from the line in the quarter for the Spartans.
Thirty seconds later, the Sabers committed a turnover down three points.
Despite the miscues, there was still a chance to force overtime.
With 11.2 seconds left, Joop narrowly avoided a turnover and was able to kick the ball to Kyler Jones on the wing for a three-point attempt.
“We actually got a decent look at the three,” Kelley said. “It wasn’t what was designed, but that’s usually the way it goes.”
Kelley said he was optimistic despite the loss.
“We know that we can play with anybody in the state,” Kelley said. “They’re Top 5 in Class 2A, so if we can play with these guys, we know we can play with anybody.”
Wallen led the Sabers with 21 points.
Brent Schluter had 12 points and 11 rebounds for SJ-O.