The small-school State Farm Holiday Classic ended on a sour note for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School boys’ basketball team.
But the Spartans still made some strides during the 16-team tournament held last week in Bloomington-Normal that they can carry with them the rest of the season.
SJO placed sixth at the event after losing 67-36 to El Paso-Gridley during the fifth-place game last Saturday night at Normal West High School. The loss to the Titans happened a little less than four hours after SJO defeated Bloomington Central Catholic 75-63 in a fifth-place semifinal game last Saturday afternoon at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
The fifth-place finish SJO was striving for last Saturday materialized after SJO suffered a close 57-53 loss to Rockford Lutheran in the quarterfinals last Friday night at the Shirk Center.
The Spartans opened up the tournament with a 47-42 win in the first round against Annawan last Thursday evening at Normal West High School.
Two senior leaders for SJO (8-4), guards Chance Izard and Payton Cain, along with freshman forward Ty Pence, were the Spartans’ most consistent scorers last week, but the entire team struggled in its loss against El Paso-Gridley. SJO trailed 22-7 at the end of the first quarter in the fifth-place game and could not catch up the rest of the way. No SJO player reached double-digit scoring, with Cain, junior forward Conner Hodge and Pence all registering six points apiece.
Izard dropped in 36 points on the strength of six three-pointers during SJO’s win against Bloomington Central Catholic, while Cain (15 points) and Pence (eight points) also contributed.
SJO led Rockford Lutheran 19-13 at the end of the first quarter in its quarterfinal game, but found itself tied at 31 entering halftime before trailing 44-37 to start the fourth quarter.
Pence scored a team-high 13 points against Rockford Lutheran, while Cain (12 points), Izard (11 points) and senior guard Jordan Kelly (six points) also contributed.
Balanced scoring sparked SJO’s first-round win against Annawan, with six players scoring at least five points. Cain led the way with a team-high 10 points as SJO overcame a 25-24 halftime deficit and a 31-31 tie entering the fourth quarter. Pence (nine points), Izard (eight points), Hodge (eight points), Kelly (seven points) and senior guard Payton Grimsley (five points) all made critical baskets or free throws for SJO.
Notes: SJO returns to the court at 7:30 p.m. this Friday when it hosts Cissna Park for the Spartans’ first home game in almost three weeks. It’s also a rematch of the two teams after SJO beat Cissna Park 65-45 on Dec. 6 during the Toyota of Danville Classic that SJO hosted.
The Spartans will then host Williamsville at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 7 before the third annual Christie Clinic Shootout that SJO hosts takes place on Jan. 11. The Spartans will play Farmington at 8 p.m., the seventh and final game of the day. Other games slated to take place as part of the Christie Clinic Shootout are Crete-Monee against Mahomet-Seymour (11 a.m.), Kankakee against Danville (12:30 p.m.), Rich Central against Champaign Central (2 p.m.), Cissna Park against Monticello (3:30 p.m.), Pleasant Plains against La Salette (5 p.m.) and Maine South against Normal Community (6:30 p.m.).
— Prior to its time playing at the State Farm Holiday Classic, SJO compiled a 1-2 record during a three-game nonconference stretch from Dec. 13-17. SJO ran its record to 6-0 after a 60-37 home win against Rantoul on Dec. 13 that saw Pence finish with a game-high 22 points and snag eight rebounds.
The Spartans, however, saw their six-game win streak to the season end with a 66-64 home loss against Tri-Valley on Dec. 14. Izard led SJO with 27 points, Pence added 17 points and senior forward Drew Coursey narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds.
SJO also suffered a close loss on Dec. 17, falling 43-39 at Champaign Central. Izard (15 points), Cain (eight points) and Pence (eight points) paced SJO in a game where the Spartans led 8-0 at the end of the first quarter and 24-18 at halftime.