Burlington Central demonstrated a March-like attitude on the final day of November.
The Rockets closed the season's first month on a competitive note by holding off host Sycamore's comeback for a 54-51 victory in the third-place game of the Leland G. Strombom Boys Basketball Thanksgiving Tournament Saturday.
Central (3-1) took advantage of the absence of Sycamore (2-2) senior standout Devin Mottet, who had picked up 3 early fouls, during a 9-0 run to open the second quarter. Two buckets by 6-foot-2 senior Brett Rau, a 3-pointer by senior guard James Raney and a jump shot from the elbow by senior guard Reed Hunnicutt moved the Rockets to a 23-13 lead.
Central led 33-22 midway through the third quarter after a field goal from the lane by 6-foot-9 center Duncan Ozburn, but Sycamore made it a 1-possession game on five occasions over the game's final 9:07. Central never locked up when Sycamore tightened the bolts.
When Sycamore cut the deficit to 35-32 late in the third quarter on the third 3-pointer of the game by senior Cooper Vinz, Central answered with a three-point play from guard Jacob Schutta, who was fouled on a putback.
When the Spartans again pulled within 3 on Vinz's fourth 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, Raney immediately answered with a 3-pointer of his own to quiet the home crowd.
When Sycamore's Nicholas Feuerbach scored 5 straight points to draw Sycamore within 48-45 with 2:18 remaining, Central senior guard Sean Fitzgerald answered with the biggest shot of the game -- a 3-pointer from the right wing, assisted by Rau, who kicked the ball to his open teammate once a Sycamore defender stepped up to meet his drive.
"Sean can hit that shot when he has his feet set like that," Porto said. "He has no conscience, which is a good thing and a bad thing."
"I just took the shot because it was there," Fitzgerald said. "I really didn't think about it much."
The Spartans drew within 3 points on another 3-pointer by Vinz, who finished with 17 points, thanks to 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. But Raney sank 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch. He split a pair with 4.4 seconds left for the final margin after the Spartans finally had drawn within a bucket with 12 seconds left.
Rau finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals, Ozburn added 9 points and 6 rebounds and Schutta scored 8 points for Central.
The Rockets were happy with their 3-1 showing in light of their 0-4 performance at the same tournament a year ago.
"I feel good about the way we played," Porto said. "We had one loss and that was to a great basketball team (Rockford Lutheran) and we had a third-quarter lead against them. It's only November but you can't ask for a better start."