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Slumping Spartans hang on

SYCAMORE – The script looked the same for the Sycamore boys basketball team with five minutes left in Friday’s 59-53 win over Burlington Central.

During a three-game losing streak, turnovers killed them down the stretch, and the Spartans lost after blowing big leads late in games.

The Spartans began Friday’s game with a 14-0 run before the Rockets (6-11) chipped away at the deficit, using a 7-2 spurt to cut the lead to two midway through the fourth quarter.

But the Spartans were determined to finally close out a tight game.

“It definitely wasn’t over [when the lead was cut to two],” said Scott Nelson, who scored 11 points. “We stuck together, got a timeout and came out ready to play.”

Junior point guard Jake Winters hit a 3-pointer shortly after the timeout to give Sycamore a five-point cushion, leading off a 10-2 run and giving the Spartans (10-7) a 56-46 lead with a minute remaining.

Led by Devin Mottet’s 13 points, the Spartans finally were able to come out with a close win.

“We let them back in and we know we shouldn’t have,” said Winters, who chipped in 11 points. “This one we really didn’t want to let slip out of our hands.”

Through the early going of the season, the Spartans didn’t have late-game issues and they didn’t struggle against the press. But as the season has wore on, the young Sycamore team became plagued by issues typical of an inexperienced team, turning the ball over in key situations after taking early leads.

“We play three or four juniors out there extensive minutes,” coach Andrew Stacy said. “No matter how good they are, there’s a huge jump from the sophomore level to the varsity level, and when teams are down, teams are playing a little bit harder than they normally would, and you can’t ever simulate that in practice.”

But Stacy thinks his players learned from their failures over the past few weeks, and when it came to crunch time, the young team made smart decisions.

After a recurring storyline contributed to three consecutive losses, the Spartans hope Friday’s finish sets a blueprint for the stretch run in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference.

“We started off like gangbusters like we’ve been doing and we were actually able to finish a game,” Stacy said. “It’s good to be able to finish a game. Their pressure got to us in the fourth quarter, but we made enough plays down the stretch to pull out a win.”

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