The Rams were able to crush opponents on most nights on their way to a perfect 10-0 showing against league opposition.
A school-record second straight league championship seemed inevitable if not a flat-out lock for the Rams.
However, Start, which was swept by Rogers by an average of 20 points during two earlier meetings this season, went into Friday night's CL tournament semifinal at Waite with a completely different agenda. The Spartans were thinking about an upset of the reigning league champions.
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Start completed the team objective by squeaking out a 54-53 victory over a Rogers team that fell behind early before making a last-ditch effort to make it a nail-biter down the stretch.
“They did it,” Start coach Gil Guerrero said, standing only a few steps away from his players celebrating with a few dozen Spartans students who rushed the floor at game's end. “They stuck with the plan, and they did it.”
The Spartans starting backcourt of Dion Ivery and Dexter Johnson combined for 30 points to lead Start (10-9). Ivery pumped in a team-high 17 points, including a 7-for-8 effort from the foul line. Johnson was quite the complementary backcourt mate, scoring 13 points, including a 3-pointer.
Rogers (13-7) routed Start by a 101-83 score in a December meeting and 70-49 earlier this month.
Start approached the latest encounter with a different approach. The Spartans passed on the opportunity to try and run with the Rams and settled on being a halfcourt team.
“Our coach told us to just play our game and slow it down,” Ivery said.
Start's strategy resulted in Rogers producing its lowest scoring output of the season. Only three other times had the Rams scored in the 50s, a 57-55 overtime win over Detroit Community, 59-45 victory over Scott, and a 70-55 loss at Norwalk.
“We slowed it down a little bit and attacked when we had it [opportunity],” Guerrero said.
Rogers fell behind 16-8 in the first quarter and was forced to play catch-up the rest of the way. Start led by as many as 14 points early in the fourth quarter after Richie Lynn scored on a layup off a feed from Mike Mitchell to give the Spartans a 46-32 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
Yet, the Rams, who were paced by Clemmye Owens (18 points) and Tony Kynard (14 points), fought their way back down the stretch.
However, the Spartans resisted the Rams' surge and never relinquished hold of the lead.
“They came out harder than us and our intensity was down,” said Rams 6-4 senior Tribune Dailey, who was held to seven points. “This is an upset.
“Our team came out like we knew we were going to win. You can't do that.”
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.