HAMPSHIRE – All Devin Mottet could do was watch the final five minutes from the bench, as the Sycamore boys basketball team’s hopes looked slim.
The Spartans’ senior forward would foul out with 4:48 left in Friday’s IHSA Class 3A Hampshire Sectional final after attempting to block a shot from Rockford Lutheran’s Joseph Kellen, who would go on to hit his two free throws to give the Crusaders a six-point lead.
Sycamore had one run left in them, taking a one-point lead with 43 seconds left, but it just wasn’t quite enough. Lutheran scored a layup with 25 seconds left to take the lead for good in a 59-57 victory.
With Mottet out, the Spartans (23-8) relied on Ben Niemann, who finished with a game-high 22 points and took over when Mottet went to the bench, scoring eight in the fourth.
“Just in the huddle (after Mottet fouled out) we said ‘don’t quit, keep attacking them,’ ” Niemann said. “I kind of thought to myself, I’ve got to drive, I’ve got to take over and score for us. We’ve had that attitude all season long where we’re not going to quit, and we’re just going to keep battling.
“That’s what we did, just came up short.”
With 43 seconds remaining in the fourth, Niemann hit a putback to tie the game and was fouled. His free throw gave Sycamore a 57-56 lead.
The Crusaders’ James Robinson answered and gave his team a 58-57 advantage on a layup with 25 seconds left.
Sycamore had two great chances to win the game coming out of a timeout on the ensuing possession. The Spartans’ Cooper Vinz had an open shot in the corner and Jake Winters couldn’t convert on a runner from the left baseline.
“Our main goal was to just get a shot that was a good shot,” Vinz said. “We had two good opportunities that just didn’t fall, so I don’t think we could have done anything else any better, but that’s just the way it goes.”
After Lutheran (29-3) grabbed the rebound and sprinted up the court, Sycamore’s Nick Feuerbach fouled Robinson with 1.7 seconds left, but the referees said it was an intentional foul – meaning the Crusaders kept the ball after two Robinson free throws.
He hit one of two for a two-point lead, and the Crusaders were able to run the clock out. Sycamore never had a chance to try a home-run play for the tie or win.
Mottet would finish with 13 points for Sycamore, Vinz added 12, including three crucial 3-pointers in the second quarter when Lutheran looked like it was building a lead.
In 2011-12, Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy took over a team that won five games the year before. In his third year, Stacy and the Spartans came to the brink of the school’s first sectional championship.
Sycamore’s seniors won back-to-back regional titles. Before last season, the Spartans’ last regional crown came back in 2004.
“Football and basketball, we had the best season in school history,” Niemann said. “That’s something I like to see left behind. People are going to remember us for a long time.”