FORT WAYNE – Austin Macy lobbed in a three. Cole Hartman rainbowed another. And here, for good measure, came Adison Daub, making geometry work for him with a looping runner that kissed high off the glass and in.
Suddenly, over on the Homestead bench, a hollow place opened up Friday night in the pit of head coach Chris Johnson’s stomach.
I thought Oh, no, here we go,’ he said.
And then, oh, yes, there came his Spartans.
Down six early, they remembered what mattered. Shutting off the open lanes to the basket on defense and making DeKalb wear down its legs playing defense at the other end, the Spartans (14-3, 5-0 NHC) all but silenced the Barons the rest of the way, grinding out a 54-40 victory.
It was Homestead’s 19th straight conference victory, extending a streak that goes back to the 2009-10 season.
And it happened thanks to a stretch of defense that produced a stretch of futility DeKalb (9-7, 3-2) couldn’t overcome.
After the 6-of-7 first quarter, the Barons made just 8 of 31 shots the rest of the way, making just four field goals across the middle two quarters and just one in an almost 14-minute stretch between the 1:39 mark of the first and 3:46 of the third, when Hartman finally ambled through the paint for a layup that pried off the lid.
By that time, a 15-9 DeKalb lead had become a 33-20 Homestead advantage, and the Barons’ most potent weapon – playing from in front – had been ripped from their hands.
The key against DeKalb, you don’t want to be down at the end of the game because they’re going to make you chase, and they’ve got great foul shooters, Johnson said. It kind of worried me there at the beginning when we were down 13-7 and I thought, Oh, no, here we go.’ But our kids hung in there. They continued to battle. As soon as we got the lead, I felt a lot more confident because then they had to come out and chase us.
And that was exactly what Homestead, which shot 16 of 25 in the last three quarters, was hoping for.
Most of it was making them work on defense, said Nick Gamble, who led all scorers with 20 points and turned the game with a buzzer-beating three at the end of the first quarter that erased DeKalb’s last lead of the night. Once we attacked the basket, we kind of wore them down a little bit. And then we just picked up the focus on defense.
We’ve been preaching defense all week. I think we’ve been slacking off it a little bit the last couple weeks. But communication was great tonight, and hopefully we can keep it up.
So does his coach.
I thought we played a lot better as far as not allowing them to get to the basket, Johnson said. We weren’t opening up so much. I thought in the first quarter we opened it up and allowed them to get to the basket.