MAPLE PARK – Brooke Harner and her Kaneland basketball teammates emerged from the locker room looking more relieved than excited after a 44-37 overtime victory against Sycamore on Thursday night.
The Knights, considered one of the top contenders in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East, got all they could handle from a young Sycamore squad still trying to find its offensive identity.
The Spartans forced overtime with 0.1 seconds remaining when freshman center Taiya Hopkins converted one of two free throws, tying the score at 34. But Kaneland responded in extra time, scoring the first eight points of the overtime session and finishing with a seven-point win.
“It wasn’t a position we wanted to be in, that’s for sure,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. “We just got fortunate, that’s all you can say. We caught a break. We got lucky there.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half. Sycamore’s mix of zone defenses gave Kaneland (7-0, 2-0 NI Big 12 East) trouble in the second quarter as the Spartans held the Knights scoreless over the last six minutes.
Sycamore (3-4, 0-2) took advantage of nine Kaneland turnovers, and Jesica Mollman’s layup off a feed from Paige Wogen gave Sycamore a 14-13 halftime lead.
In a back-and-forth grind, neither team led by more than five points in the third and fourth quarters. Sycamore sophomore Bailey Gilbert hit a 3-pointer, her only field goal of the game, to bring the Spartans within two with six minutes remaining.
Kaneland held Wogen and Gilbert, two of Sycamore’s more dynamic offensive options, to a combined 13 points.
“We’ve always been known for our defense, and I think that’s why we got so far last year and are doing so well this year,” Harner said. “We work well together.”
With Sycamore down one, Kaneland proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled and Sycamore got the last possession with 17.3 seconds remaining. Two short Sycamore jumpshots both missed, but the last rebound was knocked out by the Knights with 1.3 remaining. The Spartans got the ball inside to Hopkins, who was fouled just before the buzzer.
Harner drove for a layup on Kaneland’s first possession of overtime, and Emma Bradford’s putback gave the Knights a four-point edge that Sycamore couldn’t overcome.
Lauren Goff led Sycamore with 12 points off the bench while Ashley Prost had 11 for Kaneland in the win.
“We got it to overtime, which was encouraging because we were down the whole fourth quarter, but we ran out of gas, I guess, in overtime,” Sycamore coach Brett Goff said. “We need to beat a good team to ourselves become a good team.”