Burlington Central's spirited rally came up just short.
After trailing Sycamore by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter, the Rockets got within 7 a couple of times late in the game, but couldn't come all the way back. The Spartans held on for a 76-67 win in the first round of the Class 3A Rochelle boys basketball regional Monday night.
The Rockets' pressing, trapping defense, with help from a couple of missed free throws by Sycamore, fueled the comeback. Sycamore led 64-43 early in the final period, but Bryce Warner's 3-pointer made it 71-64 with less than 2 minutes to go. That was as close as the Rockets could get, however.
A dismal second quarter, in which Sycamore outscored them 22-7, was the Rockets' undoing.
Ryan Ritchie finished with 23 points for Central (16-12), while Ray Hunnicutt, the school's all-time leading scorer, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in his final game as a Rocket.
Meanwhile, the Spartans, looking nothing like a 9-19 team, spent most of the night putting on a shooting clinic. Sophomore forward Devin Mottet scored 15 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, and Brandon Spartz-Raikes came off the bench to hit 4 3-pointers on the way to 20 points. Mottet also had 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
"We were very lackadaisical in the first half, and then on top of that them hitting some shots," said Central coach Brett Porto. "Part of it was because we left a lot of guys open, but they knocked down shots. That caused them to get out to a big lead and we could never really recover from that."
The Spartans did claim some credit for those open shots.
"Part of that was we did a really good job of sharing the basketball," said Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy. "We talked about trying to go inside-out, and I thought we had a size advantage and we tried to take advantage of that. A lot of those 3s that we knocked down were off of post touches or off penetration, which makes it a lot easier to shoot."
The teams were tied at 16 after one quarter, but the Spartans came out on fire to start the second. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Mottet and Rashaud Bomar, an old-fashioned 3-point play by Mottet, and 5 straight points by Sparts-Raikes put the Spartans ahead 30-18, and the Rockets could never catch up.
Warner finished with 9 points and 8 rebounds for Central, while Reed Hunnicutt and Malik Harris added 8 points apiece.