SYCAMORE — Ben Niemann thought he had an open putback as time was about to expire with the Sycamore boys basketball team down by two points in Friday's game against Morris.
Niemann rebounded a miss by forward Devin Mottet, and as he was about to shoot, he felt a hand hit the back of his head, knocking him off-balance.
“I tried to jump and put it back for a quick put-back, and I thought I got fouled,” Niemann said. “I got slapped in the back of the head.”
If the shot had gone in, it might not have mattered that the Redskins scored 34 points in the second half after the Spartans (9-6, 2-2 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) held them to seven in the first half.
But the shot hit the backboard and fell to the ground, and the Spartans lost their second conference game, 41-39, to Morris.
“We shouldn't have been in that position in the first place,” Niemann said. “You can say, 'Yeah, we got fouled,' but if we would have just taken care of business during the game, it wouldn't have been an issue.”
Niemann scored eight points in the first half and Mottet added six, and the Spartans led, 20-7, at the half.
The Spartans led, 30-17, with just more than four minutes left in the third quarter when 6-foot-6 Morris forward Ben Ortiz made his first shot of the game. Ortiz would score 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, including Morris's (8-5, 2-2 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) last 10.
“We came out flat defensively [in the second half],” Mottet said. “We strayed away from what we did in the first half. Our intensity was high, we had great help defense. In the second half, we were just a step slow.”
Coach Andrew Stacy was visibly upset after the loss, but he wasn't disappointed in his team's effort.
“Our effort was outstanding,” Stacy said. “I'm just disappointed that we weren't rewarded for our effort. Credit Morris, they made plays when we couldn't down the stretch.”
Girls put away Morris early
The Sycamore girls basketball team hadn't played in 18 days heading into Friday's game against Morris, and coach Brett Goff was worried the layoff was a little too long.
Eighteen first-half points from Bailey Gilbert, along with a 41-18 lead heading into half time, eased his anxiety. The Spartans went on to win, 67-47.
“We hadn't played in 18 days, so I was a little suspect with that,” Goff said. “Our offense looked very good tonight.”
The break had its benefits. With his young team beginning to grasp varsity basketball, Goff and his staff implemented a new offense, which was efficient early.
Gilbert scored 12 consecutive Sycamore points in the first quarter to give the Spartans a 14-5 lead, and two Paige Wogen three-pointers gave Sycamore (6-6, 1-3 NI Big 12 East) a 22-10 lead at the end of the first.
“I thought [the new offense] helped a lot,” Gilbert said. “It's hard to stay as sharp as we want to for that long of a time, but we came out well in our first game and really got a good lead.”
After taking a 23-point lead into halftime, Sycamore scored just two points in the first five minutes of the second half. But Morris (4-10, 0-4 NI Big 12 East) scored only five points during that time, and the Spartans coasted to the win.
With their first conference win under their belts, Goff thinks the Spartans' season is looking up. But he also thinks his team needs to step up defensively.
“It's always nice to get a conference win,” Goff said. “I feel good. Our offense was clicking tonight … We need to get better defensively quickly.”