BURLINGTON – The Sycamore boys’ basketball season has been imperfect, full of peaks and valleys, a few close losses and a failed bid to win a conference championship.
None of that matters now.
The Spartans (19-10) won their first regional title since 2004 in a 51-44 upset win over top-seeded Hampshire on Friday, using 20 points from junior Devin Mottet to put the Whip-Purs (23-6) away.
“Early in the season, we wouldn’t have finished these games,” Mottet said. “Right now, I think we’re playing our best basketball, and it’s the greatest time to do it … Everyone on this team has found their role, we share the ball and have great team chemistry.”
The game looked like it was slipping away early in the second half, when Hampshire hit two 3-pointers out of the gate to take a 34-26 lead.
Then, Scott Nelson took over.
The 6-foot-6 senior scored eight consecutive points during a 15-0 Sycamore run that gave the Spartans the lead for good.
“We saw that [eight-point deficit] and said, ‘We’ve got to turn it on or our season is over,’” Mottet said. “It was just fun. We played as a team and everything was clicking in that second half.”
Stopping Hampshire sharpshooter Tyler Crater, who scored Hampshire’s first 11 points, was instrumental in the turnaround. After hitting a three-pointer to start the second half, Crater scored just five of his 23 points down the stretch.
The Spartans trailed, 28-26, at the end of the first half, but Ben Niemann always knew a win was within reach.
“We were like, ‘We’re only down two and we’re not playing our best basketball,’” Niemann said. “We knew if we just played how we were capable of, we could pull away and that’s what we did.”
After making just 13-of-32 free throws in a semifinal win over Rochelle on Wednesday, Sycamore shot 9 of 10 from the line, including three makes down the stretch to close out the win.
After a topsy-turvy season, coach Andrew Stacy has seen his team come together.
“It’s a maturation process,” Stacy said. “These guys are starting to figure it out. I’m just proud of them because they never stopped believing, even last year when they were 9-20, they never stopped believing.”
The Spartans will play Wheaton St. Francis at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Class 3A Freeport Sectional semifinal.
“It seemed out of reach [last year], but we came in and put a lot of hard work in the offseason, and when we made our goals, one of them was to win the regional,” Mottet said. “We accomplished that goal.”