ROCHELLE – The Sycamore boys basketball team has made no secret it wants to play fast this season.
The Spartans are deep, with an unrelenting second unit coming off the bench, so playing at a frenetic pace is to their advantage.
Against Rochelle’s full-court press Friday, it was to Sycamore’s detriment early, when it made several turnovers in the first half. But the Spartans harnessed their speed in the second half of the 76-49 win.
“Sometimes when you get to running like we do, the ball goes flying everywhere, turnovers and stuff,” senior Ben Niemann said. “We just played a lot more under control [in the second half] and we’re a lot more fundamentally sound. We were just not sloppy.”
The Spartans (13-3, 4-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) jumped out to a quick, 10-0 lead behind four points from Devin Mottet, who finished with a team-high 15, but Sycamore couldn’t sustain its early pace, committing several turnovers early.
Rochelle (4-13, 0-3 NI Big 12 East) came back to make the score 20-16 early in the second quarter before the Spartans made a 12-3 run over the last 6:25 to push the lead to 32-19 at the half.
“We want to play fast, but we want to play fast to get a great shot,” Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. “Not just play crazy and turn the ball over, like we did for a little while in that first quarter.”
After committing seven turnovers in the first half, the Spartans came out under control in the second. Cooper Vinz scored four of his 12 points early in the half and the score was 47-22 just more than three minutes into the third quarter. That lead ballooned to 30 by the end of the third, and the Spartans controlled the tempo of the game in the second half to coast to their fourth consecutive win to start the conference season.
“They play fast, and it allowed us to speed up the game,” Sycamore point guard Jake Winters said. “I think the main thing is playing our style, so if we get a rebound and we have the opportunity to run, then we’re going to run, but if we don’t see anything’s open, then we’ll slow it down a little bit.”
This up-and-down style of play is relatively new to the Spartans this season after relying on a smaller rotation last year. The transition was made even more difficult by the deep playoff run the football team made, leaving four of Sycamore’s starters out for much of preseason practice.
But the Spartans have jelled as a team throughout this season, and steadily, they’re learning to play to their strengths.
“[Not having a preseason] hurt us, not having that chemistry,” said Niemann, who scored eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds. “Now we’ve been able to do that, and that’s helped us a lot. I think we’ve just gotten in a groove, and we’re starting to figure out how to play together as a team.”