SYCAMORE — After going up five points at the end of the third quarter, Sycamore had Burlington Central right where it wanted the Rockets.
But the Rockets (3-0) upped their defensive pressure, took advantage of second-chance opportunities and held Sycamore scoreless for nearly five minutes in the fourth quarter, streaking to a 10-0 run and the Spartans never got closer than three points again as the Rockets won their final pool play game 48-42 in Sycamore's Strombom Tournament to reach Saturday's title game against Sterling.
"We were a little disappointed with how we guarded in the third quarter and when you’re not shooting the ball well like we did, you’ve got to be able to guard and when we didn’t," said Rockets coach Brett Porto, who notched his 200th career win. "They took advantage of it, so we picked it up defensively and that allowed us to get some confidence offensively."
McConkey is part of a yellow, tye-dyed crew of Spartans who have had limited basketball practice due to the late football season. He scored 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had three steals.
“They picked up their defensive pressure and we didn’t do as great a job as keeping care of the ball," Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. "We forced some things.”
Jake Lenschow's size and strength for the Rockets allowed the Spartans little leeway around the bucket.
After a Carson Seyller made shot early in the fourth quarter and several Burlington Central stops, Seyller laid in another bucket and Lenschow added onto the lead with consecutive buckets for a 41-36 Rockets advantage.
“Defensively we try to have a lot of ball pressure," Lenschow said. "I think we bothered them a little bit in the half court. Then they started making mistakes and we capitalized in the second half more so than the first.”
Lenschow was aggressive in attacking the hoop, scoring eight points in the first half on his way to 19 points. With two Lenschow buckets in the paint in the second quarter and a driving bucket by Joshua Hudgens, the Rockets clung to an 18-14 lead at halftime.
McConkey's three free throws and a layup through contact were the only points the Spartans scored in the second quarter.
Seyller scored 10 points for the Rockets and Zac Schmidt added 9.
“I felt like a couple players like Carson Seyller really stepped up ball pressure and that forced them off some spots," Porto said.
Lukas Overhaug scored seven of his 12 points in the first quarter and knocked down two 3-pointers. The Spartans shot five of 21 in the first half. Jackson Johnson had eight rebounds and two blocks. Matthew Reuscher added five points and two blocks for Sycamore.
McConkey's last-second shot to end the third quarter banked in off the glass as the senior guard nearly fell into the Spartans bench. Sycamore led 36-31 after the third.
“After halftime, third quarter I thought we played really really well," Stacy said. "We were unselfish, we were patient, and did a really good job running the offense and executing.”
Sycamore is scheduled to play Rochelle at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Rockets will face Sterling in the Strombom championship game around 7:30 p.m.