Toughness, effort and leadership are the three things Luke Stagg sets out to provide for the Okemos boys basketball team every time he touches the court.
The junior forward provided all three, plus some, for the Chiefs on Tuesday night.
Stagg scored a game-high 14 points and came up with some key defensive stops as Okemos outscored Sexton in the fourth quarter to pick up a 53-49 victory.
“All of our guys are pretty tough, but if I had to pick the toughest, I would definitely pick Luke on that one,” said Chiefs coach Jeff Wonch. “He’s constantly guarding guys that are four or five inches taller than him, and he’s up for the challenge.
“He got some big rebounds for us tonight and took care of the ball for us, too.”
Stagg, along with senior guard CJ Pruitt, propelled Okemos to its second straight victory – and its first winning streak of the season – by combining to score 10 of the Chiefs’ 18 fourth-quarter points. Okemos went into the final eight minutes trailing the Big Reds (1-7, 0-4) by one but was able to take the lead for good midway through the fourth with a 9-4 run.
Pruitt netted eight of his 12 points in the second half and provided a scoring boost for the Chiefs (3-3, 3-1) as the team’s leading scorer, Chaz Richardson, was held to just nine points.
“A lot of the guys who came back from last year are really stepping up,” Stagg said. “We got some newcomers who are stepping up, too. Everyone has new roles and we’re just trying to fill them and score some points.”
The loss gives Sexton its sixth single-digit loss of the season. Coach Carlton Valentine said the Big Reds’ early-season misfortunes has to do with lack of experience, specifically in the backcourt.
However, it was sophomore guards Zhervonte Smith and Cody Blankenburg who helped Sexton grab a 24-23 lead going into the half with six points each. Smith finished with a team-high 13 points.
“The game of basketball has changed. It’s all about guard play,” said Valentine, whose team had the lead at the end of each of the first three quarters. “If you don’t have experienced guard play than you’re going to have trouble. We haven’t won a lot (this year), so that’s always tough – guys get down on themselves.
“We have to really trust the execution on offense and defense. If you don’t trust your execution on offense and defense then eventually you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Senior Devin Taylor scored eight for the Big Reds and senior big man Kahari Foy-Walton scored nine.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.