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3rd quarter adjustment saves SJO from Unity upset

For a little more than 19 minutes of clock time, the St. Joseph-Ogden girls' basketball team's undefeated record was in jeapordy. Entering the game with a three-game win streak to start the season, the Spartans were, by all accounts, the pre-game favorite against the 1 win - 3 loss visiting Unity Rockets.

Taylor Wells takes aim during a free throw attempt in SJO's post-season game against Villa Grove-Heritage in 2020. Wells posted her first double-double of the year against the Rockets.

Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

With nearly half of the third quarter gone and a 19-17 score in the Rockets favor on the main scoreboard mounted on the gym's north wall, a three-point shot from Ella Armstrong gave SJO their first lead of the contest. The Spartans relenquished it briefly after Unity's Alysson England answered with field goal but regained the advantage with yet another trey from Armstrong on the way to a 47-29 Illini Prairie Conference win last Thursday.

For nearly two quarters Unity out-hustled and out-muscled their host. The three guards, Maddie Reed, Chloee Reed and Lauren Miller were busy bees forcing turnovers and ball control issues for SJO. Miller and Chloee Reed paired up, were credited with five steals.

"The girls came to play tonight," said Rockets' head coach Dave Ellars. "We had a couple days off due to the weather and I believe it helped our legs."

Unity played a solid first half preventing St. Joseph-Ogden from getting any offensive traction. Except for a 6-6 tie midway into the first quarter, the Rockets had the favored Spartans on the rope and kept them there until halftime.

"We did not play well in the first half," said SJO head coach Kevin Taylor concerning how his team started the game. "We were standing around too much against their zone and not moving the ball."

Taylor said he made a simple adjustment in his game plan for the second half.

"We switched up our offense to get more movement and we made an effort to get the ball inside where we had a big advantage in size," he said. "Our post play made really good decisions in the second half. Several times when we went to the post, they kicked it back out for an open shot."

We learned we can compete. I believe we will learn from this game.
The midgame tweak worked and allowed Armstrong score on three baskets for eight points pushing a four point deficit on the Rockets. Ashlyn Lannert extended the lead to nine points on a bucket and trey.

"SJO made a couple of adjustments and they made a few shots," Ellars said, explaining the shift in the game's momentum. "Due to SJO's size we wanted to try to help (our players) inside. She (Armstrong) made some shots in the second half."

Ellars was trying to keep the ball out of the hands of Taylor Wells. Wells finished the game with 12 rebounds and four assists.

"Taylor did a good job tonight using her size. She controlled the lane tonight with her defense and rebounding," Taylor said. "She also had several plays on offense where she found an open teammate when she was doubled-team in the post."

While she contributed just four points, Payton Jacob's presence on the court was crucial for the Spartans.

"Jacob always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. She had several key plays when we needed it tonight," he said about the junior starter. "There were a couple of key offensive rebounds and put backs that stood out to me."

St. Joseph-Ogden's top three scorers were Lannert and Wells with ten points apiece and Armstrong, whose four treys produced a game-high 16 points.

The Rockets offense was compiled by four players. Chloee Reed led the team with 10 points, England added in eight, Miller five and Maddie Reed chipped in three points. Miller led the team in rebounding with four. Miller and Chloee Reed had three apiece.

The loss withstanding, Ellars was happy with the way the team played.

"We learned we can compete," he said about his team. "I believe we will learn from this game. I was extremely pleased with our effort."

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It takes a gritty team to gut check and turnaround a game in the last 11 minutes, especially when you trailed the first two-thirds of it. On the floor, on the bench or in practice, it also takes a group of dedicated fourth-year players willing to do the little things.

"If this team has any mental toughness it is because of the seniors," Taylor said. "Whether they played a lot of mins or just a few, they all are doing a great job trying to lead this team and are doing all the little things that go unnoticed by most.

I can't thank them enough for what they are doing. They were a big part of why we were able to comeback and have that big swing in the score."

Box Score

Unity 16 3 3 7 - 29
St. Joseph-Ogden 9 6 15 14 - 44

Unity
C. Reed 2 (2) 0-3 -- 10, England 4 (0) 0-0 -- 8, Renfrow 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Miller 2 (0) 1-2 -- 5, Stringer 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Steinman 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, B. Henry 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, M. Reed 0 (1) 0-0 -- 3, Moore 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Alagna 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, T. Henry 0 (0) 0-4 -- 0, Flesch 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0.

St. Joseph-Ogden
Lannert 2 (2) 0-0 -- 10, Walden 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Campbell 1 (0) 0-2 -- 2, Jacob 2 (0) 0-2 -- 4, Wells 5 (0) 0-0 -- 10, Hamilton 1 (0) 0-0 -- 2, Hug 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Behrens 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Smith 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Jones 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Hamilton 0 (0) 0-2 -- 0, Vallee 0 (0) 0-0 -- 0, Armstrong 2 (4) 0-0 -- 16.

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