Spartans step it up in second half to topple Sabers in conference opener

Early on, it looked like it was going to be a runaway game and an easy victory for the St. Joseph-Ogden girls' basketball team in their conference opener at St. Thomas More on Monday.

The 11-1 Spartans made all the right moves building an 11 point lead, the largest of the game by either team, when the contest reached the midpoint in the first quarter.

Senior Bree Trimble makes a pass during second half action in St. Joseph-Ogden's road game at St. Thomas More. Trimble finished the night with 17 points in the first Illini Prairie Conference contest of the season. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

SJO, moving the ball well around the perimeter forcing open looks, was fully in control on their way to their 58-43 victory over the Sabers.

Finishing the quarter with 11 points, the table soon turned and STM's giant awoke.

The Sabers stepped up their defensive game creating scoring opportunities for senior NaKaya Hughes to put the ball in the hoop. Hughes' effort, five second quarter field goals and a free throw, erased their early deficit in a palatable momentum shift. The STM starter finished the night with 27 points.

"We came out a little slow and didn't expect them to do what they did," said Peyton Crowe. The senior led the Spartans with 19 points and was perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line. "In the second half, we kicked it into gear and played better defense."

Spartan head coach Kevin Taylor praised his opponent's effort in the second quarter when his team's focus seemingly wavered.

"I have to give St. Thomas More a lot of credit," Taylor said. "They came out with energy, which I think we lacked at the start of the game."

With 52 seconds left in the half and STM two points away from taking the lead at the half, senior Bree Trimble, a veteran starter and the team's scoring leader this season, wasn't worried.

"I knew it wasn't our half. I knew in the second half we would be okay," said Trimble, who went on to add 7 second half points to the 10 she delivered in the first to finish with 17 total. "I knew someone would be able to pick us all up and get something going."

Back in the locker room during halftime, Taylor made tactical adjustments and told his team they needed to concentrate on playing more aggressively.

"Just get out there, focus and play harder," he told the team before the second half.

Fortunately in the fourth quarter, after St. Thomas took the lead battling tooth and nail to keep it throughout the third, Taylor's words became action.

Offensively, the Spartans scored seven unanswered points pulling ahead 44-37 at the start of the period before the Sabers' next bucket. They then went on a 10-point run to put the game out of reach late in the final quarter.

Nearly half Crowe's scoring production came in the second half. She thanked her teammates for helping her attack the paint.

"They were setting screens making it a lot easier to cut," she said. "Whenever I saw the open lane I went in."

The SJO defensive effort allowed just three STM field goals in the final quarter.

"In the second half we had some fire," Trimble beamed. "We stepped it up and played a lot better."

Next up, before playing in the annual State Farm Classic Basketball Tournament after Christmas, the 12-1 Spartans will travel to Morton on Saturday to face a 3A program that has won three state titles and suffered just 10 losses in the past four years coming into current season.