SYCAMORE – David Compher knew the future was bright for the Sycamore basketball team last year, even when the Spartans trudged through a rough season.
But he didn't realize quite how good his team could be until practice started this fall, and last year's successful sophomore team mixed with the returning varsity players, which were plentiful.
“The intensity in practice is just 10 times better than it was last year, and we're so much better, cohesively,” Compher said. “It's a lot different. Cohesively, we're just better together, I think we're clicking together. This whole week of practice was really intense, and I think that's because of the personalities on this team.”
That depth and cohesiveness showed on Saturday in a 60-46 win over Kaneland, when the Spartans (4-2, 2-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) used a full-court press most of the game and kept a healthy lead throughout, even when a few key players left the game with foul trouble.
The Spartans jumped out to a 19-7 lead in the first quarter behind 10 points from junior wing Devin Mottet.
The lead ballooned to 23-7 before Mottet and fellow starters Ben Niemann and Scott Nelson left the game with foul trouble. Kaneland cut the lead to 29-20 at the half.
Sycamore's press caused problems for Kaneland's slow, deliberate offense, and the Knights had seven turnovers in the first half.
After two quick baskets to start off the second half, the Knights never cut the lead to single digits despite a game-leading 19 points from Matt Limbrunner. Kaneland (1-4, 1-1 NI Big 12) is without last year's starting point guard, junior Drew David, who fractured his wrist during football season.
“Every time we thought we were right there, Sycamore had a nice little push,” Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. “[Sycamore's full-court press] led to a lot of turnovers, and a lot of easy buckets for them. They wanted to get the game moving fast, and we want to play with a little more control, although we didn't really get to show it tonight.”
Mottet led the Spartans with 17 points after scoring 14 points in the Spartans' conference opener last Friday against Rochelle. After leading Sycamore in scoring as a sophomore and reworking his jump shot over the summer, Mottet has come into this season with more confidence.
“I'm much more confident. It's my second year on varsity, and I got used to the speed last year,” Mottet said. “I didn't have to deal with coming up [to varsity as a junior]. It was a huge transition.”
However, there are reasons to temper excitement after Sycamore's quick start. Both Rochelle and Kaneland were missing a key player, and the Spartans committed 13 turnovers. Still it's clear that Sycamore is one of the teams to beat in the NI Big 12 East after struggling last season.
“I thought we had moments where we played really, really well and I thought we had moments where we did silly, unfundamental things that we need to work on,” Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. “Overall, a win's a win and in our conference, you want to chalk up as many as you can because I think it's going to be a battle in the conference, all season long.”