PLANO – After dropping the first game of the Plano Christmas Classic, the Kaneland boys basketball team won three in a row, concluding with a 47-40 win Monday afternoon over Dixon.
The victory earned the Knights a ninth-place finish in the tournament. Although Kaneland (7-3) played the majority of its games in the consolation bracket, coach Brian Johnson was pleased with how his team finished the tournament.
“Any time you can leave a tournament 3-1, you feel pretty happy about it,” Johnson said.
After a slow-paced first half that ended with the Knights up, 20-17, Kaneland picked up the tempo. It started the third quarter in a full-court trap that did not allow Dixon (12-2) to settle in to its half-court offense.
The trap caused a series of turnovers that led to easy points for the Knights. Forward John Pruett, who scored eight points in the third quarter, said the quicker pace played directly to the Knights’ strengths.
“We like to get out and run,” Pruett said. “We feel like that’s when we’re at our best, just getting rebounds and going. Coach (Johnson) always says ‘Get the ball and go and try to score quickly.’ ”
That is exactly what Pruett did. On Dixon’s first possession of the second half, the Knights’ full-court press forced a bad pass and Pruett was able grab the loose ball at half court and finish with an easy layup to spur an 8-3 Kaneland run.
Senior Ty Carlson added six of his game-high 19 points in the third quarter to pad the Kaneland lead. All of Carlson’s third quarter points, with the exception of two free throws, came from inside the paint.
Johnson said that the energy that Kaneland displayed in the third quarter was able to make up for the slow first half.
“We need to push the pace up a little bit, try the fast break a little bit more,” Johnson said. “I thought the third quarter was probably the deciding factor of the game.”
Kaneland entered the fourth quarter leading, 34-25. Dixon was able to slow down the Knights’ offensive attack in the quarter, but could not follow through with enough offense of their own. Dixon forward Isaiah Roby hit three 3-pointers in the final quarter, including a bucket to push the score to 45-40 with 20 seconds left, but the run came too late for the Dukes.
Johnson thought that the fourth quarter was the weakest that the Knights played. He said that his team must find a way to play complete games if they want to continue to improve.
“We made our free throws down the stretch which was nice, but I felt the fourth quarter, we could have executed a little better,” Johnson said. “I think we need to be more consistent for four quarters. We can’t just play a couple good quarters and then a poor quarter.”
Kaneland continued to play without guard Dylan Vaca (wrist) and center Jacob Gomes (ankle), who both sat out with injuries. Johnson hopes that they will be back by the end of January to provide the Knights with more depth and take some of the pressure off the starters.
Carlson (19), Pruett (17) and forward Ryan David (8) led the Knights in scoring. With the exception of two late free throws from guard Connor Fedderly, all of Kaneland’s points came from its starters.
Johnson looks forward to Saturday’s game against Geneva at the United Center.
“We’re gonna have a good test here on Saturday against Geneva, who is in my opinion, one of the better teams in the state of Illinois,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we can learn and try to find that consistency.”