FULTON, Ill. — The Fulton Steamers pulled ahead late in the first half and never let the lead go to take down the Orion Chargers 52-38 in boys basketball Friday night.
“It was a much better effort all around for us,” Fulton head coach RJ Coffey said. “They came out and did a really nice job, worked hard. Our guys came to play today.”
The Steamers were coming off of a loss to Morrison on Tuesday where the Steamers gave up a seven-point lead. Coffey said his team did not perform at the level it needed to, and the athletes agreed.
“We knew we had a tough one today and that we had to bounce back and learn from Tuesday’s game against Morrison,” senior points guard Cody Sanderson said. The Steamers did not have a practice between Tuesday’s game and Friday’s. “We had to get a W here. We had a walk-through before the game and talked about what we needed to do, and we went out and executed.”
The first quarter started slowly for both teams, going back and forth. The Chargers had the 10-9 lead when the first eight minutes ended.
“The first quarter was a little rough,” Coffey said. “We were playing hard and our energy was good, but we were turning the ball over a little too much. After we cleaned that up, we kind of righted the ship and started to lock down defensively. We got a little life there at the end of the second quarter and got rolling.”
Orion scored first to start the second, but Fulton senior Tyler Bruggenwirth responded with a basket and free throw for the three-point play. The Steamers went on nearly a four-minute scoring drought that was broken up by a jumper from Keegan Kloepping to tie it up 14-14. The Chargers then made two consecutive baskets and forced Coffey to call a timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Kloepping hit a 3-point shot, then Jamison Osborn found Bruggenwirth for two on the next trip down. Osborn grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back himself to pull ahead 21-18.
“I really thought Jamison Osborn and Hunter Collachia off the bench had big, big games for us,” Coffey said. “Jamison is really starting to come along. He’s always been a solid rebounder and athletically he’s raw. The skills are coming, but he can jump and he can run. The more he gets comfortable, the more he can help us down the stretch.
“Hunter came in and knocked a big shot down for us. Cody did a nice job of getting him open. He made a couple nice rebounds and passes for us too. Anytime you get a couple of guys off the bench contributing it’s a big help in getting a win.”
Sanderson was fouled on the dribble and put in two free throws to add to the lead, and then Collachia hit a big 3-point shot to end the second. The Steamers went into halftime with the 26-18 lead after outscoring the Chargers 17-9.
The Chargers didn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the game.
“After the Morrison game, we really struggled offensively, but we said we didn’t do the job defensively either,” Coffey said. “We felt we gave them too many points. Our defense, when it’s good, it’s good. We expect to defend at a high level and hold teams to low points, and tonight I was very happy with that.”
The Steamers struggled a bit near the end of the game when Orion came out with a full-court press that trapped in the backcourt.
“It was a little frustrating; they let a lot of calls go. You just have to play basketball,” Sanderson said. Sanderson took the brunt of the pressure on the ball throughout the entire game. “We had to stop rushing. We were getting really panicked, but Coach called a timeout and calmed us all down and told us to stop rushing, stop turning the ball over and keep it safe.”
Sanderson — who is normally one of the Steamers’ top scorers — ended the night with four points. However, he was the reason the Steamers’ offense got running against an aggressive Orion defense.
“Cody really controlled the game. He did a great job of getting his teammates open. He was getting bumped and beat up and just kept going. He does so well handling the pressure. The points weren’t there, but everything else was.”
Other Fulton athletes stepped up for the offense. Bruggenwirth — another consistent point leader — had 19 to lead the Steamers. Osborn pitched in eight, and Kyle Schipper and Kloepping had seven apiece.
“It’s really helpful that I have a couple guys on the team who can really score the ball,” Sanderson said. “When I can’t get my shots going I have a few guys I can get the ball to and we can get some points.”
Fulton improved to 15-5 on the season and 3-1 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference and will take on Sherrard on Tuesday at home.