DIXON – Eastland's Ty Hartman missed all of last summer's workouts with a knee injury. Sterling's Tre Whittaker missed the majority of his senior hoops season with a knee injury. Both took full advantage of one last time to shine Thursday night at the 30th SVM All-Star Classic.
Whittaker's personal 9-1 run got the Gazette back in the game early on, but Hartman's MVP performance was enough to lift the Telegraph to a 59-52 victory at Sauk Valley Community College.
"The guards got me and Kyle [Moore] the ball in the post where we could work our moves," said Hartman after his 25-point, seven-rebound performance. "We pushed the tempo, got the ball in good position to score, and I was fortunate to be the one who was finishing."
Hartman scored six straight Telegraph points to end the first quarter, then turned in a three-point play to regain the lead early in the second, after the Gazette had taken its first lead, 19-17, on Steven Armoska's putback.
Hartman then closed the first half with a 6-0 run, including a putback as time expired to put the Telegraph up 34-25 at the break.
But it was his third and final stretch of six straight Telegraph points that proved to be the difference. After the Gazette used a 12-3 run to close the third period and open the fourth to pull within 51-50, Hartman took over down the stretch. Alex Cain's jumper from the keyhole with 4:05 to play pushed the Telegraph lead back to 53-50, then Hartman hit a fadeaway in the lane and a layup on a pretty post-to-post pass from Moore to stretch the lead to seven with 2:45 to go.
"We finally slowed down again, got the ball to where it needed to be," Hartman said of the closing spurt. "We stopped running all helter-skelter and managed the clock better, and it was the key at the end."
His putback with 1 second left sealed things, as it was a defensive struggle for big stretches of the second half. There were three different 2-minute spans after halftime where neither team scored, in what turned out to be the lowest-scoring SVM Classic in history.
Tough sledding on the interior was the main culprit. The teams combined to block 10 shots, with Moore stuffing five by himself; Whittaker had two blocks to pace the Gazette.
"I anticipated an aggressive, physical game in the post tonight, especially with all the great players we had down there on both teams," said Moore, who added four points, six rebounds and three assists to his game-high block total. "Defense was a big part of our win tonight; it's weird that an all-star game came down to fundamentals, and a bunch of individuals playing well as a team."
Whittaker provided the aggression early on. The Sterling grad made up for the missed high-school season, scoring nine of his 11 points and grabbing seven of his game-high 11 rebounds in the first half.
"I saw my whole senior year taken away, so I knew I had to give it all I got when I was blessed with this chance to play one more time," said Whittaker, who tore the meniscus in his right knee early this past season. "We felt like we had the game when we got to within one there near the end, but I think fatigue set in a little bit. They just hit a few shots down the stretch that we couldn't."
After Whittaker's early explosion helped the Gazette erase a 13-2, first-quarter deficit, it was Erie's Jacob Johnston who led the second-half surges. He hit two 3-pointers to bookend a 10-2 run to open the third quarter, then capped that 12-3, fourth-quarter run with a three-point play to get to within a point with 6:02 remaining.
"In an all-star game, no one expects much defense," said Johnston, who had 13 points and five rebounds. "Both teams were competitive and came out hard, but they hit shots to get the lead early, then keep it late. They found their rhythm quicker than we did, and that's why they won."
That rhythm helped the Telegraph answer every time the Gazette got close. Trailing 25-22 late in the second quarter, the Telegraph closed the first half on a 12-0 run.
Up 36-35 early in the third, the Telegraph used a 12-3 run to regain control; after the Gazette got to within 51-50, the Telegraph closed the game on an 8-2 spurt.
"We converted when we needed to," Telegraph coach Quinn Virgil said. "The kids played smart and focused, Hartman had a great game for us, and we had success on the few set plays we actually did run."
Armoska added 11 points and seven boards for the Gazette. Cornell Hartz had a team-high three steals, Alex Leaf and Devin Johnson each had two assists, and Zack Everett chipped in five rebounds.
Ermir Ramadani hit a pair of first-quarter 3s for the Telegraph and finished with six points, while Alec Ketter matched Moore's three assists. Cain grabbed six boards, and Nic Miller had a team-high two steals.
30th SVM All-Star Classic
Telegraph 59, Gazette 52
Star of the game: Ty Hartman, Telegraph, 25 points, 7 rebounds
Key performers: Jacob Johnston, Gazette, 13 points, 5 rebounds; Tre Whittker, Gazette, 11 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks; Steven Armoska, Gazette, 11 points, 7 rebounds; Kyle Moore, Telegraph, 4 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 assists