MAPLE PARK – With three games remaining in the conference schedule, the Kaneland boys basketball team needed three wins to have a chance for a share of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title.
After winning games at Morris and against Sycamore at home, the Knights set up a dramatic season finale against DeKalb at home.
Kaneland’s senior night did not disappoint as the Knights held off the Barbs for a 57-55 victory.
DeKalb had a chance for the win, but Patrick Aves’ 3-pointer at the buzzer fell short, giving Kaneland a three-way share of the conference title with Morris and Sycamore.
“I thought that we battled hard. I am just proud of our guys for persevering through a little tough stretch in conference,” Kaneland head coach Brian Johnson said. “We won four in a row and avenged losses against Yorkville and DeKalb. It is nice to say we are conference champs.”
After trailing by three at halftime, DeKalb scored five straight points to take an early lead. The Knights responded with a 15-3 run, sparked by a pair of Drew David 3-pointers and another five points by John Pruett. The Barbs closed the gap before the end of the quarter with a 7-0 run.
In the fourth quarter, Kaneland pushed the lead back out to 9 points but the Barbs wouldn’t back down. DeKalb scored eight straight points to cut the Knights’ lead to one.
“We fought hard in the second half, we just couldn’t pull through,” DeKalb’s Jace Kitchen said. “We just needed to knock a couple of free throws and hit a layup and that is the difference, but we just couldn’t quite get it.”
Connor Fedderly split two free throws to give Kaneland a two-point lead with 11 seconds remaining. The Knights had a foul to give and used it to make DeKalb inbound the ball with 5 seconds remaining. Aves’ final effort then fell short.
Kitchen’s 20 points and seven rebounds led the Barbs. Luke Davis III finished with 17 points, with 15 of those coming in the first half. DeKalb head coach David Rohlman said that his team’s defense could have made the difference.
“I am pleased that we fought our way back. I didn’t think we had the energy that we are capable of playing and I thought that cost us,” Rohlman said. “We could have played much better defense. We gave up 70 points to these guys earlier in the season and today, it was in the 50s, but I didn’t think it was as good of defense that we are capable of playing.”
For Kaneland, three players finished in double figures. Pruett scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. David hit four 3-pointers to finish with 12 points and Cole Carlson had 12 points.
“Down the stretch, we are going to need everyone to score,” Pruett said. “We can’t be relying on one or two people. We need four or five, like tonight.”