The SAC boys standings might not look like they do during any other season but there is a familiar name all alone at the top after conference play on Friday night.
Homestead escaped with a 53-46 win over North Side, giving the Legends their first SAC loss and keeping the Spartans clean for the time being.
The Legends led for the entire first half and put a real scare into the Spartans.
Homestead (14-3, 5-0 SAC) deployed a box-and-one on Brauntae Johnson, but the Spartans had to switch to a 1-3-1 zone because the Legends were hitting shots from the outside.
North Side (10-5, 4-1) hit four 3’s in the first quarter to build a 16-11 lead, but it only hit one more triple the rest of the way.
As the Legends cooled off, Kyron Kaopuiki, who led all scorers with 17, and Alex Graber, who ended up with 13, started to get some shots to fall for Homestead. The Spartans had several floaters hit the front of the rim to start the game, but they proved they were able to get into the paint.
This is where Homestead took over the game.
“We needed that because the fluidness of the offensive in the first half wasn’t there. We just weren’t moving the ball. We were taking tough shots and playing into their hands of making one or two passes and chucking up a shot,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said.
Graber, Tucker Day and Grant Leeper were able to establish themselves in the paint as Homestead’s leading scorer Will Jamison struggled to see anything fall on Friday night. Jamison finished with eight but scored six big points down the stretch. Day had 13 points, and Graber scored 11.
“We want to get into an offense where we are swinging the basketball and letting those guys get into pick and rolls and the other big raise and look for that high-low. We’re still not seeing that opening,” Johnson said.
“We got a good amount of offensive rebounds, and we had easy dump downs when the other guys were doubled,” Day said.
Day and Grant Leeper were the tallest on the floor on Friday and played like it down low. Day had several blocks, including a couple of swats that brought a big crowd to its feet late in the game.
“We started closing out on shooters more effectively and making get into the paint. We have good shot blockers in the paint and don’t allow too many shots,” Day said.
Homestead closed the gap to three by halftime and quickly took the lead in the third quarter with Day scoring eight in the period.
Brauntae Johnson, who had 11, looked like he was going to take over the game early in the fourth with a couple of and-ones. But Jamison hit a couple of elbow jumpers to put Homestead back up four with less than four minutes remaining, and the Spartans defense picked up from there.
Still, North Side had a chance to take the lead, down one with a minute left and Bohde Dickerson at the line for two free throws. He missed both and Johnson fouled out fighting Kaopuiki for the rebound. Kaopuiki hit both and Homestead controlled the game from there.
The Spartan have been inconsistent in the last few weeks. They won their home holiday tournament over some really good competition, only won by three over a then one-win South Side squad then had its worst performance of the season against Blackhawk Christian on Jan. 10.
Both teams have dealt with different lineup issues over the past couple of weeks, but are hopefully able to get things ironed out for the final stretch of the season. After Saturday’s game at Lawrence North, the Spartans only have one game in a 10-day stretch, which should allow for ample practice time.
“We’re trying to get everybody together to where we’re on the same page,” Johnson said.
The SAC boys race is far from over.
Homestead still has some worthy challengers remaining on its conference schedule, including Wayne and Concordia, which still have one loss in conference play after Friday.
If the Spartans do get everyone on the same page, it will be tough to knock them off the pedestal of the SAC.