Nine players on the Sycamore basketball roster also played football for a successful team that lost to Montini in a Class 5A state semifinal on Nov. 23. Those players had only the benefit a walk-through before they faced Central at the Spartans' annual Thanksgiving tournament, according to Spartans coach Drew Stacy.
"We didn't have great chemistry; we hadn't played with each other much," said Sycamore senior Ben Niemann, committed to play outside linebacker at Iowa next fall. " Now we're on a 9-game win streak, so we're kind of in a groove and hitting on all cylinders. We're playing together as a team."
Sycamore (14-3), assigned to the same Class 3A Genoa-Kingston regional as Burlington Central, was the aggressor from the start. Senior Devin Mottet scored 7 of his 14 points in the first quarter and sophomore guard Brett Bemis scored 7 of his 8 points in the second quarter as the Spartans blitzed the Rockets 37-23 in the first half.
The keys to Sycamore's strong first half? The Spartans won the rebounding battle 16-6 and limited the Rockets to 5 field goals in their first 18 attempts. Meanwhile, the Spartans made 13 of their 24 first-half shots.
Central coach Brett Porto said his team's "lack of effort in the first half" was the difference between the first meeting and Tuesday's result.
"We're a team," Porto said. "There's no one standout so when we play as a team on both ends of the court, we're usually successful. When we don't move the ball offensively and we don't dig down on the defensive end, we're going to struggle. For the most part we allowed them, especially early on, to beat us on the boards, to get second chances and to beat us up and down. It was a lot of little things that won't show up on the stat sheet that made the difference for them."
Central senior Sean Fitzgerald opened the fourth quarter with his third 3-pointer of the game and sophomore Luke McCurdy followed with a drive for a layup that trimmed Central's deficit to 50-41 with 6:22 to play.
Sycamore responded by giving the ball to Niemann on 4 of its next 5 possessions, and he scored 7 of his game-high 16 points, 5 from the free-throw line. Niemann also hauled down 12 rebounds as the Spartans outrebounded Central 26-16.
"He just brings that athleticism," Stacy said of Niemann. "He's aggressive and he does a great job rebounding for us. He's 6-3 but he plays more like he's 6-6 because he's so strong and athletic and so aggressive out there."
Sean Fitzgerald finished with a team-best 13 points and senior guard James Raney added 7 points for Central.