DeKALB – The Sycamore girls basketball team had shown tangible progress over the past two seasons under coach Brett Goff.
The Spartans have evolved from a conference doormat to one of the preseason favorites in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East.
Yet Sycamore, still boasting a young roster, never had beaten DeKalb, the standard in the conference and one of the better Class 4A programs in the state.
That all changed Friday. Sycamore, buoyed by a solid defense and efficient offense, built an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and hung on down the stretch as the Spartans (5-3, 2-0 NI Big 12 East) got just enough defensive stops in the final minute to close out a 32-29 win over rival DeKalb.
It’s Sycamore’s first win over the Barbs in the past five matchups between the rivals.
“It means a lot. It means all our work two years ago paid off now,” Sycamore junior Bailey Gilbert said. “After a tough loss from Peoria last week, we stepped up a lot, had a week full of good practices and we showed some of our best basketball.”
Both teams struggled in the first quarter, combining for only five total field goals as the Barbs held a slim 6-4 lead after eight minutes.
The back-and-forth pace continued into the second, but the game turned when DeKalb’s Maddy Johnson picked up her second foul midway through the second quarter.
Sycamore went on a 12-2 run to close out the half with Johnson on the bench, including a 3-pointer from Morgan Picolotti just near the end of the half to put Sycamore up seven going into the break.
“Johnson’s an unbelievable player, inside and outside,” Goff said. “She’s such a threat, she was the focal point [defensively].”
DeKalb closed to within four in the third, but a driving layup from Julia Moll with five seconds remaining gave Sycamore a 24-16 lead heading into the fourth.
On several occasions DeKalb was able to cut the lead to four, including two driving layups from Brittney Patrick in the final two minutes and a floater in the lane from Johnson with 33 seconds left.
But Sycamore was able to hit enough free throws in the closing possessions to seal the win and take an early lead in the conference standings.
Gilbert led the Spartans with 10 points, and sophomore center Kayley Aase recorded six points and pulled down 14 rebounds. In total, eight players scored for the Spartans.
“Bailey can’t be the focal point of the offense, someone else has to step up,” Goff said. “They’re getting better at it and we have a capable team with a lot of people who can pick it up and score.”
Johnson had nine points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in the loss, and Patrick ended with 10 points and seven rebounds for the Barbs.
Sycamore will play at Willowbrook on Friday; DeKalb travels to United Township today.
“We’re going to enjoy [the win],” Gilbert said.