Spartans playing with sole purpose

Spartans playing with sole purpose

ST. JOSEPH — Cram enough people in a small-school gymnasium on a Friday night, and no one will feel cold.

Especially in Teutopolis.

St. Joseph-Ogden boys' basketball coach Brian Brooks knows the feeling well. SJ-O and Teutopolis have met every season since 2013 in what's become an annual nonconference game between the two powerhouse programs.

The next chapter in the series continues at 7:30 p.m. today when the Spartans (13-1) travel to face Teutopolis (11-1) on the Wooden Shoes' home court.

Keeping Teutopolis, ranked seventh in the latest Associated Press Class 2A poll, on the Spartans' schedule is a valuable resource, according to Brooks.

"It helps a ton, and we were trying to get Teutopolis on the schedule back when I first got to St. Joe," said Brooks, in his 15th season leading the Spartans. "They're good every year. Win or lose, we're always better prepared for late February and early March when we're able to play them."

Teutopolis has won four of the five meetings between the two programs since 2013, with SJ-O's lone triumph happening in a 57-51 home victory during the 2013-14 season.

But even with those losses against the Wooden Shoes — who have reached the state tournament seven times since 1986 and have advanced to the Elite Eight five times this decade — it's a game Brooks doesn't mind playing, particularly on the road, given the postseason-type feel it usually brings.

"I'd say environment-wise, it's one of the better ones I've had the opportunity to be involved with," Brooks said. "They've got a great program, anyway, but their fans are really good basketball fans and not only supportive of Teutopolis, but also the other team. It's a fun atmosphere."

Fun is one way to describe how the Spartans have played this season. SJ-O, which received votes in this week's 2A AP poll, carries a four-game win streak into Teutopolis after suffering its only loss of the season to Quincy Notre Dame on Dec. 28 at the small-school 16-team State Farm Holiday Classic. The Spartans are playing an effective brand of up-tempo basketball, too, averaging 64.4 points and have a plethora of scoring options.

Senior guard Jordan Brooks (13.8 points), junior forward Jack Cook (11.6 points) and senior guard/forward Bryce Haake (11.2 points) are the Spartans' three leading scorers, with Cook breaking out for a 38-point, 10-rebound game during Tuesday night's 72-45 win at Villa Grove/Heritage.

Sophomore guard Chance Izard is only averaging 5.8 points, but scored a team-high 24 during SJ-O's 98-66 win last Saturday against Shelbyville, while senior guard Riley Baker (8.7 points) and junior forward Joel Orcutt (7.6 points) are capable offensively as well.

"That's been a strength of our team is they've really bought into the idea of sharing the basketball and are really playing as one," Brian Brooks said. "It's hard to win if only one or two guys are the only ones who could score. We've got six guys who have hit double figures this year in big games. We're a little hard to guard now."

The Spartans will need those scoring options the rest of the month. A home game with Paxton-Buckley-Loda — the Panthers knocked off the Spartans last season in SJ-O's postseason opener — awaits on Saturday afternoon before quality foes like Unity (11-1) on Jan. 23, Williamsville (13-0) on Jan. 26 and Monticello (9-1) on Jan. 30 hit the schedule in the next three weeks.

But SJ-0's focus now is on its trip to Teutpolis and the experience of playing in front of a hostile crowd.

"It's a little older gym, but they pack it in there," Brian Brooks said. "The students are loud and are literally right there on the floor with you. You really can't prepare for something like that unless you've been there."