ROCKFORD – DeKalb couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in Wednesday’s Class 4A Rockford East Regional semifinals.
The underdog Barbs, seeded fifth, grabbed a quick nine-point lead against top-seeded Rockford Jefferson, hitting shots left and right.
But as the game went on, foul trouble and turnovers plagued DeKalb in what would end up being a 57-49 loss. The Barbs end the season at 8-23.
DeKalb lost point guard Rudy Lopez in the fourth quarter, as the sophomore fouled out with 4:54 left in the game, while Jake Smith picked up three fouls in the first half and Andre Harris fouled out in the final minutes of the contest.
When the Barbs needed baskets late, DeKalb’s possessions often resulted in turnovers, as the Barbs were outscored 20-10 in the fourth.
When Lopez was on the bench, DeKalb looked like a different team.
“You saw what Rudy can do for us on Monday night,” DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman said. “We struggled [without him]. We had to put guys into positions that they don’t normally play and probably haven’t hardly played when they were middle school kids.”
On top of that, the athletic J-Hawks (18-12) pressed the Barbs constantly, and were able to keep getting to the hoop on the offensive end.
“I thought the first half we held our own against them,” Smith said. “I didn’t think they came out and ran us up and down the court. [Athleticism] was definitely on their side. They were definitely fast.”
Smith would finish with 15 points for DeKalb in his final high school game. Fellow senior Andre Harris chipped in 15 as well. Lopez added seven and senior Jake Carpenter finished with six.
Smith played a big part in getting the Barbs off to a 9-0 start, hitting two early three-pointers in the first quarter.
“I just rose up and it felt good,” Smith said. “So the next one down the court, I thought why not.”
However, the J-Hawks responded with 10 unanswered points. The teams went into halftime tied at 23, and Jefferson would end the contest on a 7-0 run thanks to a string of free throws.
While the Barbs end the season with just eight wins, players, coaches and fans watched the team come just a few plays away from competing in a regional final. Rohlman felt like his team improved tremendously throughout the season, and hopes they can carry the momentum into next year.
“One of the things we’ll think about is how much better we are now than we were at the start (of the season),” he said. “Even at Christmas time, how much improvement we’ve made since Christmas time.”