MAPLE PARK – The race for the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title got even more complicated on Saturday night.
Sycamore, which came in as the co-leader in the conference with Morris, was flustered by a Kaneland defense that consistently put pressure on the Spartans and the Knights hit enough shots down the stretch to edge Sycamore, 50-44, at home.
The win pulls Kaneland into a tie with Sycamore (18-7, 6-3 NI Big 12 East) for second place in the conference with one game remaining next Friday.
"[Kaneland's press] took us out of rhythm a little bit," Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. "We played hard, we just had some mistakes at crucial times. You can't fault our energy or effort."
A back-and-forth, up-tempo first half saw both teams struggle with turnovers against the other's pressure defense as neither squad could manage an advantage greater than five points.
Ty Carlson was able to create space and converted a handful of early jump shots on his way to a game-high 24 points, including 12 in the first half. Cole Carlson's double-clutch, fall-away jumper at the buzzer gave the Knights (15-9, 6-3) a three-point lead at the half.
"I can't say enough about Ty Carlson, he's playing the post for us and then we've got him up handling the basketball," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "He's just been excellent and he was a big reason why we got the win."
Kaneland stretched its lead to seven in the third quarter, but Sycamore mounted another comeback as Nick Feuerbach nailed a 3-pointer and a runner from Daniel Evans tied things at 33-33.
Yet the Knights' pressure defense would be the difference down the stretch, allowing only nine points in the final eight minutes. They forced numerous backcourt violations with their pressure and the Knights made enough free throws in the closing minutes for the win.
"Ryan David, he's such a long athletic kid. He just gets his hand on the ball and makes it hard for them to pass," Ty Carlson said. "He's doing a great job up front for us and then John (Pruett) and Drew (David) on the wings, they're smart and Cole (Carlson) getting some picks on the backside."
Kaneland will host DeKalb on Friday while Sycamore takes on Morris at home. If both Sycamore and Kaneland win, a three-way tie atop the conference would occur, which would be a fitting ending to a conference season that has been anything but predictable.
"It's something to look forward to. Senior night is a big night next Friday against DeKalb, it's going to be a great atmosphere," Ty Carlson said. "Plus we'll have a chance to get a piece of the conference, that'd be awesome."