ROCHELLE – The possibility of Rochelle shifting to the Northern Illinois Big 12’s West Division surfaced earlier this week.
The Kaneland boys basketball team would probably hate to see that happen.
The Knights have made some sweet memories on the Hubs’ home floor, the most recent coming Friday as Kaneland rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat the Hubs, 69-66, in both teams’ regular-season finale. The Knights (15-11, 7-3 NI Big 12 East) needed the win to take the conference title outright with second-place Sycamore defeating DeKalb.
The win was the Knights’ second conference title in three years, the other one also being clinched in a regular season finale at Rochelle.
“We won the conference two years ago, we won a regional here – it always seems like we come to Rochelle and play a big game,” Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said.
Knights junior John Pruett (19 points) and senior Matt Limbrunner (16) were instrumental as Kaneland used a 10-0 run at the start of the third quarter to turn the momentum after trailing Rochelle, 38-26, at halftime.
Kaneland entered the game having lost five of its past six, including a pair of conference defeats against DeKalb and Morris. Combined with the poor first half at Rochelle, it appeared the Knights would limp into next week’s IHSA Class 3A Illinois Math and Science Academy Regional.
“It’s been rough,” said Pruett, sporting goggles after taking an inadvertent finger to his eye at practice earlier this week. “We lost five straight games after winning seven. We were used to winning for a good amount of time, and then we started losing. We wanted to get back on a winning streak, and we wanted to win conference, bad. That’s been our goal since the beginning of the year, and we wanted to get it done.”
Limbrunner started the second half with a 3-pointer and Pruett added a driving basket as the Knights quickly lopped five points off their deficit.
Rochelle, already playing without leading scorer and four-year starter Grant Prusator (hip flexor injury), saw starting guard Luke Manning foul out with 6:42 left in the third quarter. Hubs coach Tim Thompson was hit with a technical foul shortly thereafter.
The Knights ended the third quarter on a good note when sophomore guard Connor Fedderly drilled a corner 3-pointer to bring Kaneland within 47-46. The left-hander sparked the Knights with eight points off the bench.
“We want him to shoot a lot,” Johnson said. “He has to get his feet set and get ready to score. He’s a very unselfish player. He’s really a nice passer but he’s one of those kids that we need to spot up behind the arc, stretch out the defense and shoot the ball when he has open shots. He made some nice buckets.”
The Knights grabbed their first lead since the first minute of the game when Limbrunner put back his own miss early in the fourth quarter for a 50-49 Knights lead.
Kaneland junior point guard Drew David scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter – seven from the free throw line – to help put the Hubs (11-18, 4-6) in a hole, and the Knights remained in control in the late stages.
Kaneland trailed 38-26 at halftime despite 12 first half points from Pruett. The foul-prone Knights sent Rochelle to the free-throw line 15 times in the half, with the Hubs sinking 12 of them.
“It was turnovers, and they were just attacking us,” Johnson said. “We were playing with our hands and fouling everywhere. It was really important to have good possessions in the second half. We had to sit Matt a lot in the first half, and I think that was big, having him at full strength.”
It all added up to another landmark win for the Knights against their friends to the west, much to Thompson’s chagrin.
“Basically déjà vu to every Kaneland-Rochelle game since I’ve been the coach,” Thompson said. “It always seems like we get out, take a lead on them and they come out and play great defense in the second half and they make a run, and we can’t really stop the bleeding.”