HAMPSHIRE – The hot perimeter shooting that carried Sycamore boys basketball team through the last couple of weeks of the season was nowhere to be found on Wednesday.
As Marian Central sat back in a 2-3 zone, Sycamore fired away from 3-point range in the first half, but nothing went in. Most shots clanged against the rim, some even came up short of that as Sycamore missed its first 12 3-pointers in the IHSA Class 3A Hampshire Sectional semifinals.
So Sycamore crashed the offensive boards as a result.
The Spartans dominated the offensive glass throughout the game and the extra possessions paid off as Sycamore held on for a 58-48 win over Marian Central to advance to Friday’s sectional final at 7 p.m. against Rockford Lutheran.
“They don’t get rattled. We sometimes bend, but we didn’t break and they made plays when we needed them to,” Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. “We stepped up and made some free throws down the stretch which was huge.”
Both teams were inefficient offensively in the first half. Sycamore shot only 3 for 15 in the first quarter, with all three baskets coming on layups.
Marian (18-16) had its own shooting woes, shooting only 25 percent from the field in the first half, including 3 of 13 in the second quarter.
That allowed Sycamore back in the game as a couple of nice feeds from Devin Mottet led to two open layups for Ben Niemann in the final 90 seconds and Sycamore (23-7) managed to take a 18-16 lead into halftime.
“We just weren’t making any shots,” Sycamore senior guard Mark Skelley said. “We were taking too many jump shots, not getting the ball inside like we wanted to. We couldn’t make shots.”
Jake Winters finally knocked down Sycamore’s first 3-pointer, coming from the left corner off the extra pass from Nick Feuerbach midway through the third quarter, giving Sycamore a three-point cushion.
The Spartans held that same advantage entering the fourth quarter, but a putback layup from Niemann coupled with a Skelley layup after another offensive rebound from Mottet pushed Sycamore’s lead to eight and forced Marian Central into a timeout.
“It’s such a luxury to have Ben [Niemann] in there when he can rip down 12, 13 boards a game and then Devin [Mottet] will get a couple,” Winters said. “It’s the little things now in the season that will help us go far.”
Marian cut the Sycamore lead to six with 2:32 remaining, but the Spartans converted 11-of-12 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win. After going a perfect 16 for 16 from the line in Friday’s regional final win over Wheaton Academy, Sycamore backed it up by going 16 of 18 on Wednesday.
Mottet led the Spartans with 18 points and five assists while Niemann finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Skelley had seven points to go along with two steals.
Sycamore has never won a sectional championship, but a senior class that has become accustomed to rewriting the school’s record books relishes the chance to make more history against Rockford Lutheran.
“[The win] means a lot,” Skelley said, “but we’re not satisfied yet.”