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The Spartan beat goes on; SJO now 8-and-0 after crushing Pioneers

St. Joseph-Ogden's Tanner Jacob directs teammates while keeping the ball away from Normal University High School's Mason Hooper-Willis during the second quarter of their game on Friday. Hitting five three-pointers, the senior finished the non-conference game against the Pioneers with a game-high 20 points.
PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

ST. JOSEPH - For the past two seasons the Spartans had a bright, shining star with Ty Pence on the floor. As demonstrated by their now 8-0 record after pulverizing Normal University 77-47 on Friday, this season's St. Joseph-Ogden roster is an entire constellation.

After a competitive dual between two of central Illinois' top Class 2A programs in the first quarter ending 17-10, SJO scored 20 points in each of the three remaining frames while allowing their opponent an average of 12.3 points. The Spartans' defensive effort was stellar.

"I thought our defense played really, really well," said head coach Kiel Duval, now in his fifth season leading the Spartans. "We were solid defensively the entire night."

U-High came to St. Joseph with a 3-1 record against the pack of Bloomington-Normal schools and had taken down Rochester and Pleasant Plains, contributing to their #2 seed for this month's State Farm Classic.

"We knew these guys were seeded higher than us, and it felt good to beat them," said Tanner Jacob after turning in a game-high 20 points against the Pioneers. The senior was on fire in the first half, draining five treys helped dominate their guests at halftime, 37-19.

St. Joseph-Ogden senior Luke Landrus dribbles around Normal Univiersity's David Null. Landrus shot 50% from the field and was a perfect 2-2 from the free throw line for the Spartans in Friday's home win.

PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Duval said his game plan was to run the floor and look for openings during the transitions. He gave props to his players for getting the ball to Jacob and creating open looks for shooters.

"You know, you always look better when you hit shots," Duval said.

After he sunk his first three out in three-point land, Jacob's confidence was ignited. The senior was 5-for-8 from behind the arc and was 1-for-2 inside it.

"They just kept leaving me open. Once I hit that first one, I knew I was going to have a good night," he said. "I just knew they were going to go in."

Like Orion in the night sky, the St. Joseph-Odgen has seven or more stars that has the team glowing with talent.

"Chemistry and depth," Jacob replied, when asked about the team's strenghts this season. "Compared to past years, we have had really good players, but we haven't always had that deep of a bench."

Watching the past eight games, it is clear how far the talent goes down the varsity 2023-24 squad.

"We have multiple guys we can sub in if a guy gets in foul trouble or a guy got hurt," Duval explained. "Coy (Taylor) was limited tonight. Other guys stepped up, he played the role and carried on."

Despite being limited to just 16 minutes on the hardwood, Taylor was 4-for-4, pulled in three rebounds and dished out a couple of assists.

Depth? How's this? The Spartans narrowly missed having five players in double figures against arguable one of the best basketball teams from Bloomington-Normal.

Surrounded by U-High players, SJO's Tanner Siems tries to put the ball back up in the second quarter.

PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Logan Smith amassed 15 points in 26 minutes of play and led the team with assists at seven. Luke Landrus finished with 13 points, two rebounds and a pair of assists.

Tanner Siems and Taylor had nine points each. Siems led the Spartans' rebounding with five boards.

Sophomore Cameron Johnson paced U-High with 12 points, and Dalton Kruger, a senior, with ten. The Pioneers, who have another shot at SJO if both team's make it to the State Farm Classic semifinal on December 29, dropped to a 5-4 record.

Jacob and the Spartans are back in action at home next Tuesday, hosting Ayden Ingram and Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin. Ingram has averaged 16 points per game for the 8-2 Blue Devils.

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