OKEMOS – Even with a huge chunk of last season’s scoring gone to graduation, Okemos basketball’s Luke Stagg was optimistic about the Chiefs’ season going into his senior year.
Stagg knew it would be a work in progress, but he felt this year’s team now had the players needed to become a more diverse scoring group. And Tuesday night proved to be a prime example.
The Chiefs had three scorers with double-digit points, with Stagg’s team-high 21 points leading the way, as they held off a late push from Sexton and picked up an 81-71 CAAC Blue victory on their home floor.
“We knew coming in that we had a lot of guys that could score,” Stagg said. “The potential is there. In a game like that, a lot of people scored a lot of points, and I don’t think we had that last year. It was Chaz (Richardson) getting to the hole really well or CJ (Pruitt) knocking down a lot of shots. But, this year, I think it’s changed a lot.”
Okemos’ transformation showed early in Tuesday’s contest, as five guys scored for the Chiefs (5-2, 2-2) in the opening eight minutes to help them take a 19-13 lead into the second quarter.
Okemos was able to expand its lead to 18 right before halftime by closing the second quarter with a 15-2 run. Stagg scored seven points during the quarter and senior Vail Hartman scored five of his 18 points during the game-changing spurt.
“We haven’t shot the ball real well lately, and it was nice to be able to get some easy baskets,” Chiefs coach Jeff Wonch said. “But, in general, the way we closed out that game, you talk about free throws, rebounding, taking care of the ball, we were doing all of those poorly.”
A lackadaisical Okemos squad combined with an aggressive full-court press from the Big Reds (2-5, 0-4) opened the door for Sexton to make a rally late in the game.
Down 57-43 going into the final eight minutes, the Big Reds opened the final quarter with a 12-5 run to cut their deficit to eight. Senior guard Zervontae Smith scored four of his 22 points during that run and junior Karl Brooks scored six of his game-high 23 points.
The Chiefs pushed their lead back out to double digits shortly after, but Sexton was able to get Okemos’ lead down to six with a few minutes left in the third quarter.
The Big Reds had three guys foul out by the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter and it allowed Okemos to close the game from the free-throw line. The Chiefs had two players foul out in the game, which was riddled with fouls.
“It seems like when we know we don’t have a chance anymore, we try to, mentally, act like we have a chance,” Smith said of his team’s early struggles. “We went into the second half playing like we have nothing to lose when we should have started out playing like that.”
Sexton sophomore guard Marcus Alston scored 14 points.
Okemos’ Jordan Henry scored 14 points and Gerald Sambaer III added nine points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.