SYCAMORE – Kaneland boys basketball coach Joe Conroy has said his Knights are better than their record indicates.
They proved it in a Class 3A regional semifinal at Sycamore Feb. 28.
Entering the postseason with eight wins, the No. 8-seeded Knights used a key run in the middle of the third quarter and held on for a 48-40 upset over No. 2 seed Aurora Central Catholic for their second straight postseason victory.
"I think we finally put a game together where we played our way," Conroy said. "Right now, we're the underdog. All year long, we've felt like we're better than our record shows. We've played some really good basketball teams and we've really taken our lumps all year. We feel like we still have more to prove."
Kaneland (10-20) was 6-18 at one point late in the season, but has won four of its past six games – including 61-39 over No. 11 IMSA in the first round of the regional.
The Knights led for nearly the entire second half against the Chargers, thanks to a timely 6-0 run in the third quarter – including two free throws by senior Jake Hed, a layup by senior Dan Franck and a fast break pull-up jumper by senior Mason Conroy – to put them ahead, 25-20, with 3:26 left in the period. Kaneland never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
"The intensity was for sure cranked up, but it was a fun, though," said Franck, who tied a career-high with 24 points and added 10 rebounds. "I think we just didn't close out games [earlier in the season]. I think that's what it was."
Franck was an offensive force for the Knights in the fourth quarter, as well. With the Knights leading, 28-27, early in the period, they went on a 9-2 run the left-handed senior accounting for all nine points.
He finished shooting 10 for 17 from the field and 4 for 6 from the foul line.
"I think he's finally realized that he deserves to be on the floor," Joe Conroy said.
The Chargers (20-7) got 15 points from senior Brett Czerak, who went 6 for 17 from the floor with Kaneland's Kyle Stuart drawing the defensive assignment.
Stuart, who Joe Conroy said "was a man all night," had five points and six rebounds. Hed had four points and five rebounds and Mason Conroy added four points and five rebounds.
Kaneland got a big boost at the foul line from junior center Blake Feiza, who missed time this season with a thumb injury. He finished with 11 points and six rebounds and went 9 for 11 from the free-throw line, including 7 for 8 in the fourth quarter.
"Blake Feiza stepped up and made a lot of clutch free throws," Franck said.
The Knights' wins this season have come courtesy of a stingy defense. Eight of their 10 victories have come when they've held the opposing team to 40 points or fewer.
Kaneland opened with a defense Joe Conroy said it hadn't showed all season, and the Chargers didn't get their first field goal attempt until there was 7:02 left in the opening quarter – a missed 3-pointer by junior Kyle Czerak.
The Knights showed plenty of patience on offense, too, especially when they held the lead in the second half. Coming out of halftime with the ball and a 19-18 advantage, the Knights didn't attempt their first field until 6:45 left in the quarter.
"We wanted long possessions because we know they score a lot of points and have won a lot of games scoring a lot of points," Joe Conroy said.
Kaneland advances to face Sycamore in the championship game at 7 p.m. March 3. The Spartans topped the Knights by double digits in two regular season meetings.