DIXON – Sauk Valley's first game of the new year was also its first game without starting point guard Carlos Hendrix.
With Hendrix academically ineligible to play, the Skyhawks struggled in the first half, then surged in the second half in a 78-68 Arrowhead Conference-opening win over Illinois Valley on Thursday night at Sauk Valley Community College.
After shooting just 35 percent in the first half, the Skyhawks (8-5) erupted to shoot 65 percent in the second half.
Sauk shot a scalding 11-for-19 (58 percent) from 3-point range, led by Jacoby Posley's 5-for-9 performance. Posley scored a game-high 21 points.
"We knew that when Carlos was going to be out, other guys have to step up," said Posley, who was one of five Skyhawks in double figures. "It's a very big confidence booster knowing that we have guys out and can get wins without them. It will make it even greater when we have them back."
"We tried to get away from the 3 tonight and go inside, and then we shoot the lights out from 3," Damhoff said.
Also in double figures for Sauk were John Murphy (16 points), Chris Fritsch (14), and Jacob Fisher and David Newton (10 apiece).
Stepping into the starting point guard spot, Chris Stovall scored just two points but dished out 12 assists.
"Our point guard was out, but Chris Stovall is a great backup. He can play," Murphy said. "He came ready to play in his first start, and I thought he played well."
"I thought it showed that we were missing our point guard in the first half," Damhoff said. "In the second half, Stovall did a lot better."
The Skyhawks were also without reserve guard Tiger Greene and reserve forward Steven Armoska, and continue to be without 6-foot-7 center Jeff Casseus, an academic casualty who has not played all season.
Damhoff said Hendrix and Casseus have a chance to return in the next few weeks. Greene will return next week after a team rules violation suspension. Armoska is out academically and is no longer on the roster.
"If he makes some good decisions, he'll get a chance to play again," Damhoff said of Armoska.
Mendota High School graduate Ross Arteaga led IVCC (7-8), which had won five straight, with 18 points. Corey McCrary added 16.
Sauk only trailed for a few minutes in the early going, but did not put Illinois Valley away until late.
The Skyhawks led by eight twice in the final minutes of the first half, but led just 29-28 at the break.
Leading 41-40 with less than 14 minutes remaining, Sauk used a 12-1 tear to pull away, making it 53-41 with 10:24 to play.
IVCC could not get closer than six the rest of the way.
Star of the game: Jacoby Posley, Sauk, game-high 21 points, 5-9 3-pointers
Key performers: Ross Arteaga, IVCC, 18 points; John Murphy, Sauk, 16 points, 8 rebounds
Up next: Kennedy-King at Sauk, 7 p.m. Saturday