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The Journal Gazette

Friday, January 19, 2018 11:20 pm

Homestead boys strike early to down North Side

JOSH PATTERSON | For The Journal Gazette

The Homestead boys used an early surge to overwhelm North Side 71-62 on Friday at By Hey Arena that left the Spartans as the lone remaining unbeaten squad in the SAC.

Homestead (8-6, 5-0) led from start to finish, scoring the game’s first eight points before using a 17-0 run to jump out 25-4 just 17 seconds into the second quarter.

“Right off the bat we just wanted to be the aggressor, hit them with the punch and bring the intensity,” said Homestead senior Onye Ezeakudo, who scored 14 points. “We did that and it was unexpected for them.”

But it wasn’t just buckets upon buckets early for the Spartans. A stifling defense left North Side (13-4, 4-1) little in the way of open shots. And while those contested shots weren’t falling, Ezeakudo’s knifing drives sliced through the Legends defense to create easy layups.

Or, when the lane did collapse, some heady passes found their way into the waiting hands of open shooters, as Homestead drained a trio of three-pointers as part of its big run.

Spartans coach Chris Johnson saw glimpses of what Ezeakudo could do on the court last year, as he methodically worked his way into a larger role throughout the second half of the season. After witnessing the continued effort during the summer, both in AAU ball and in the weight room, Johnson knew his game could expand even further.

“He’s a phenomenal ball player,” Johnson said. “He’s a hard worker, and he got himself stronger. He’s able to get to the basket, and he’s a player we need to get to the basket. He’s a creator, he’s the one that makes us go.”

North Side wouldn’t go away quietly. Trailing 31-14 at the half, the Legends posted a 27-point third quarter to trim the Homestead lead to 47-41 entering the final stanza.

But the run came at a cost, as Austin Boucher (11 points) picked up three fouls in quick succession midway through the frame, fouling out with 3:26 left in the third. With Brandan Johnson serving a one-game suspension, that left Legends coach Shabaz Khaliq to go further into his bench. Keion Brooks Jr. led the Legends with 21 points.

A Jalen Causey free throw left the Spartans clinging to a five-point advantage just seconds into the fourth quarter. Ezeakudo would strike again, streaking to the basket before finding a wide-open Sam Buck in the corner.

Buck (14 points) calmly drained the triple, then sank a pair of free throws on Homestead’s next possession to push the lead back to 10. The Spartans lead never dipped below six points the rest of the way. Grant Raber had 23 points for Homestead.

“Onye drove to the cup and I was wide open in the corner,” Buck said. “Any of us can make a big play, I just happened to be in that situation and had to hit that shot, and I hit it.”

Despite overcoming a massive hurdle, Buck explained that Homestead can’t just rest on its laurels for the balance of the league season.

“A win like this can rally get in your head and make you think you’re all that and you don’t need to play as hard, but we still have to take care of business,” Buck said. “The SAC isn’t won yet. We still have to take care of business.”