FREEPORT -- The first half went back and forth, but the second half belonged to St. Francis.
St. Francis broke the game open with a 16-4 run spanning halftime and went on to defeat Sycamore 48-38 in the Class 3A Freeport sectional semifinals.
The Spartans will play Rockford Lutheran tonight for the sectional title.
In a battle of Spartans, the first half saw 16 lead changes and 3 ties. But St. Francis scored the last 5 points of the first half, including a 3-pointer by sophomore Jason Sullivan just before the buzzer to take a 26-23 halftime lead.
Leading 28-27, St. Francis scored the final 9 points of the third quarter to break the game open. Sullivan and Tim Zettinger nailed 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to end the quarter.
Overall, St. Francis held Sycamore to just 15 second-half points.
"We're mainly a defensive-oriented team," Zettinger said. "We came into the locker room not happy with our defensive performance in the first half. Coach (Bob Ward) got on us and said we have to get back to a defensive mentality."
Zettinger finished with 19 points to lead all scorers, while Sullivan added 12, all on 3-pointers. Kilian Brown added 6 points and 5 rebounds, and Jason Pisarski also had 6 points for St. Francis (20-8).
"We're not a prolific scoring team, and we have to be in games like that," Ward said. "I thought the second half defensively was the best we've played all year long. Defensively, we just wore them down."
Scott Nelson had 8 points and 7 rebounds for Sycamore, but Devin Mottet, who was unstoppable in Sycamore's regional final victory, never got untracked. He had 6 points at halftime but missed 4 straight free throws to start the second half and never scored again. The frustration was evident on his face after he picked up a fourth-quarter foul.
Sycamore dominated the backboards, outrebounding St. Francis 31-15, but St. Francis made up for it by taking care of the ball, committing just 3 turnovers for the game.
The first half was nearly dead even, with each team making 5 field goals. At one point, the teams exchanged the lead on 14 straight scores. But with the half winding down, Pisarski scored on a putback and, after a Sycamore miss, Sullivan nailed a 3-pointer with time winding down. That gave St. Francis the momentum heading into the second half.