Must-win gets Somerset boys basketball back into conference race
The facts were pretty clear.
If the Somerset boys basketball team didn't beat Ellsworth on Thursday, the Spartans could kiss any chance of catching the Middle Border Conference leaders goodbye.
The Spartans trailed for much of Thursday's game, but they hit 7-8 free throws in the final minute to pull ahead of Ellsworth for a 43-40 victory.
The win raised the Spartans' record in the MBC to 2-3. Their three losses were to three of the MBC leaders and all by close margins.
"It was nice to finally get a close one," said Spartan coach Brent Larson. "Hopefully this game helps with our confidence. We'll have a lot of games like this in our conference."
Ellsworth is a disciplined team with a pack of talented guards. That group was led on Thursday by Lemoine Steffen, who scored 14 points in the first half, including four three-pointers. Steffen's hot hand led the Panthers to a 23-16 halftime lead.
The Spartan coaches decided at halftime that they had to make defensive changes to concentrate on Steffen. They had junior guard Tyler Ledbeter hound Steffen whenever the ball was in the Panthers' offensive end. When Ledbeter needed a break, Luke Praschak took over the role. Between the two, they held Steffen scoreless in the second half.
The whole Spartan team sharpened its defense in the third quarter. That allowed the Spartans to take a 31-29 lead on a three-pointer by Danny Sheridan late in the third quarter. Somerset outscored Ellsworth 15-6 during that quarter.
The fourth quarter was close, until the final seconds. Ellsworth led 37-36, until Spartan sophomore Gaelin Elmore scored off a rebound with 2:01 left. The Spartans came up with several key rebounds off Ellsworth's missed shots and the Spartans used the free throws to salt the game away. Ledbeter, Elmore, Sheridan and Jack Emmert combined to go 7-8 from the line in a stretch of the final minute that put the game out of reach.
Elmore had another big night for the Spartans, finishing with a game-high 15 points. He also led the team in rebounds and blocked several Ellsworth shots. Emmert scored 11 points, all in the second half.
The win was the sixth of the season for the Spartans, matching their win total for last season.
The Spartans start a stretch of three straight home games this Friday, when they host Durand. The Spartans get a visit from the St. Croix Central boys for a non-conference game next Tuesday.