Boys basketball: Sterling edges Moline in battle of Western Big 6 unbeatens

Golden Warriors top Maroons behind 3-point barrage, improve to 5-0

Sterling’s Lucas Austin puts up a shot against Moline’s Marcus McQueen Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Sterling.

STERLING – In a battle of Western Big 6 unbeatens, 3-point shooting, clutch free throws and defense proved to be the difference-makers.

After taking a three-point lead into the half, Sterling held off a furious Moline charge late in the fourth quarter for a 76-72 win Friday night at Musgrove Fieldhouse.

The Golden Warriors (5-0) made 7 of 12 3-pointers in the first half to build a 37-34 lead. Junior power forward Maddux Osborn made three shots from beyond the arc, and junior guard Nico Battaglia hit two to create the three-point advantage at halftime.

“It was great. Me and Nico, we kind of had a slow start,” Osborn said. “We’ve had a good game here and there, but coming out tonight it was a big conference game, and we shot lights-out, and that’s what won us the game.”

Sterling’s Maddux Osborn makes a pass against Moline’s Peyton Olmstead Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Sterling.

The Golden Warriors increased their lead to 56-49 at the end of the third quarter.

After a 7-0 Sterling run midway through the fourth, the Maroons (4-1) found their footing and rallied to within 72-68 with 1:02 to play. Moline reached the four-point margin on a putback by senior forward Vinnie Adjahoungbeta.

But Sterling came up clutch in the final moments.

Junior guard Kaedon Phillips sank a pair of free throws with 34.6 seconds left to stretch the lead to 74-68. Senior forward Carter Chance then jumped on a pass for a steal at midcourt with about 24 seconds left and passed ahead to senior guard Andre Klaver, who drew a foul and knocked down two free throws for a 76-68 lead with 19.1 seconds left.

Those final free throws essentially iced the game.

“We knew we had the lead. We knew we had to play smart,” Osborn said about the late-game situation. “We had a couple guys in foul trouble, so kind of slowing down there, knocking down our free throws, that was key to winning the end of the game.”

The Maroons took charge early in the first quarter, using an 8-0 run to build a 15-7 lead with 3:54 remaining. Junior Trey Taylor nailed a right-wing 3, then junior Braden Freeman got to the hoop for a layup and buried a left-wing 3 for the eight-point lead.

“We kind of locked in on defense, and, obviously, pushed the ball, and it led to open transition opportunities like 3s and 2s,” Freeman said. “I think that’s what really helped us kickstart the game.”

Sterling called a timeout to slow the momentum and came out of it with a 12-4, game-tying run.

Senior power forward Lucas Austin followed a pair of free throws with a mid-range jumper to draw within four points with just over three minutes left. Klaver knotted the game 17-all with two free throws, then got a buzzer-beater layup to fall to keep the game tied at 19 after one quarter.

Sterling gradually shifted the momentum in the second quarter. Osborn swished a left-corner 3 just 20 seconds in, and Klaver followed with a steal at mid-court and fast-break layup to push the lead to 24-19.

Moline senior Peyton Olmstead made back-to-back layups — the second of which came on the fast break off a steal and assist by Taylor and tied the game 28-28 — but the Golden Warriors kept finding answers.

Sterling’s Nico Battaglia puts up a shot against Moline Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Sterling.

Klaver hit a right-wing 3 to retake the lead, then Battaglia hit two left-wing 3s 37 seconds apart to stretch it to 37-32 with three minutes left.

“[The 3s] were big, especially since they focused on guarding Luke and left me and Maddux a little bit more open,” Battaglia said. “It gave us the opportunity to play as a team and score like we needed to.”

After a Freeman steal and fast-break assist to Adjahoungbeta tied the game at 45, Sterling hit three consecutive 3s to regain control. Austin started it off with a right-wing 3 with 2:02 to play in the third, then Battaglia hit from the left corner. Austin hit again from the right wing off a pretty drive-and-kick by Klaver from underneath the basket.

The Golden Warriors used that momentum to maintain a seven-point lead at the end of three quarters.

Battaglia finished with 17 points, five assists, four steals and two rebounds; Austin totaled 16 points and seven rebounds; and Osborn supplied 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Golden Warriors. Also for Sterling, Klaver added 11 points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals; Phillips scored 12 points; and Chance added eight points and three rebounds.

Freeman compiled 24 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block; Taylor tallied 18 points, six rebounds, five steals and two assists; and Adjahoungbeta chipped in 12 points and five rebounds for the Maroons. Olmstead added 11 points and three rebounds for Moline.

Sterling’s Andre Klaver looks to pass against Moline Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Sterling.
Dan Wussow

Dan Wussow

Dan is the sports editor for Sauk Valley Media. Previously, he wrote for The Post-Crescent in his hometown of Appleton, WI.