DeKALB – The crowd at the Northern Illinois’ Convocation Center for Friday’s DeKalb-Sycamore boys basketball game was larger than most of the young Barbs had ever played in front of.
The backdrop behind the baskets was nothing like any gym they’ve played in this season, and the pressure of being on the floor in a game some of them dreamed of playing in for years was intense.
Sophomore Luke Davis III and junior Jace Kitchen both admitted they felt plenty of nerves leading up to the opening whistle of their Convocation Center debuts.
“When we were at school, everyone was like, ‘You’re a sophomore, and you’re starting, what are you thinking?’” Davis said. “I just told everybody I was real nervous about this game.”
You never would have been able to tell in DeKalb’s 59-51 win.
Davis, a 6-foot-6 center, had an immediate impact on the game. On the first play, he tipped a Sycamore pass that led to a steal, and on the other end of the court, he jumped out of bounds to keep a ball in play before finishing a three-point play.
Kitchen was the offensive star of the night. He hit a pair of 3s in the first quarter, when the Barbs seemingly couldn’t miss, and scored 20 points. The play he’ll be running through his head for years to come occurred in the third quarter, when he stole the ball from Sycamore point guard Danny Evans, charged down the court and sent DeKalb fans into a frenzy with a dunk.
“That dunk ...” Kitchen said, trailing off for a moment. “That was my first one in a game, and I couldn’t have picked a better one to have it. It was awesome … [The feeling] was unexplainable.”
Later on, sophomore Ethan Conroy hit a pair of threes to keep the Spartans at bay after a long run. Junior Rudy Lopez, one of the few Barbs who played in this game a year earlier, was dangerous as ever driving to the basket.
Dre Brown, another Convocation Center debutant, smothered Daily Chronicle All-Area forward Devin Mottet on the defensive end.
Despite picking up three fouls in the first half, Davis was able to make life difficult for talented forward Ben Niemann, who was stifled after taking over early in the third quarter.
“Some of these guys, with their youth and inexperience, they have no fear because they haven’t been here,” DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman said. “Obviously the steal and the dunk was a tremendous play, but I don’t know how many defensive rebounds [Kitchen] secured for us. Another thing that’s not going to show up is Dre Brown, the way he played defense on Mottet … [Davis] played within himself.”
Just six weeks earlier, the Barbs lost to Sycamore by 17 on their home floor after a third quarter collapse.
But Saturday’s win wasn’t completely unexpected for coach Dave Rohlman, even on such a big stage. This team has undeniable talent and has shown marked improvement since their last bout with their biggest rivals. Since the Chuck Dayton tournament over winter break, they’ve made steady strides, but inexperience still kept them from fulfilling their potential.
On Friday, they showed that they’ll be a threat, not only in years to come, but for the rest of the season.
“After Christmas, I thought we were significantly better, then after the Martin Luther King tournament at Hononegah [in mid-January], we took another step forward,” Rohlman said. “I certainly think we’ve taken another step forward [Friday]. That’s a very quality basketball team, and I’m really proud that we were able to come out and beat those guys.”