MAPLE PARK – If the Kaneland boys basketball team’s postseason run comes to a close this week, a lack of gumption in the clutch is unlikely to be the culprit.
The senior-driven Knights have hit as many memorable, clutch shots as any team in the area this season, most recently point guard Drew David’s buzzer-beater in Friday’s regional final to upend Marmion, 62-60.
The Knights head to tonight’s Class 3A Hampshire Sectional semifinal against Rockford Lutheran with plenty of late-game bravado on their side.
“I always like being the guy people can look to and just know, that guy doesn’t want to back down – he’s the guy that wants to take the shot,” said David, a four-year varsity starter. “At the same time, I realize that, as Michael Jordan always says, he’s also missed like 30 game-winners or something like that. Being the guy that wants to take the shots, you have to at the same time take the credit for losing some of those games, too. I just kind of shoot it, hope it goes in, and I just try to win games for our team.”
Kaneland coach Brian Johnson has seen his share of goosebump-worthy endings in his six seasons with the Knights, but called Friday’s victory in Maple Park the most thrilling. David’s long two-point shot at the buzzer – off an assist from his younger brother, Ryan – broke a tie and shipped the top-seeded Knights to sectionals.
Johnson said the Knights have pulled out the closely contested games more often than not, crediting a veteran core led by seniors Ty Carlson, John Pruett and David.
“For the most part, I think we’re battle-tested in close games,” Johnson said. “Early on you’d like to not have games that you’ve got to worry about trying to win at the end, but I think in the long run, it’s helped us out.”
David also hit a buzzer-beater last season in a key conference win against Sycamore. Friday’s winner came unscripted after Marmion’s Jordan Glasgow tied the score at 60 moments before.
“Drew’s very instinctive,” Johnson said. “That end-of-the-game shot against Marmion, we don’t call a timeout, we let them play, and Drew comes up big and hits the shot.”
Although David’s glorious jumper is freshest in Kaneland fans’ minds, Carlson might be the area’s unofficial leader in clutch shots this season. Among the highlights on his personal, season DVD: last-minute 3-pointers to tie games against Geneva (at the United Center) and Yorkville, and a buzzer-beating basket to beat Morris, 42-41, in January.
Carlson said he loves the opportunity to drill a game-deciding shot but echoed his coach’s philosophy in emphasizing the importance of the more subtle moments that allow the Knights to thrive in close games. In the Marmion game, Carlson highlighted a charge taken by Ryan David and the Knights winning battles for a couple 50-50 balls as critical moments.
“It just goes to show with close games, coach Johnson always talks about the little things take care of the big things,” Carlson said. “So when we do the little things right, it always leads to making big things happen.”
In facing Rockford Lutheran tonight, Kaneland must contend with 2,000-plus point career scorer Thomas Kopelman, whom Johnson compared to another star Kaneland has faced this season, West Chicago’s John Konchar.
“He plays the 1, the 2, the 3 – I mean, he’s all over the place for them,” Johnson said of Kopelman, a Minnesota State recruit. “He’s about 6-(foot)-3. He’s a dead-eye shooter, he penetrates really well, he passes very well, so he’s kind of a do-it-all for them.”
The Crusaders also are comfortable in tense games, having survived an overtime regional final Friday against Belvidere, winning 71-67.
If it’s another tight one tonight, that’s OK by David, who has had time to regroup after an emotionally draining celebration Friday.
“It was kind of weird, it was really surreal, kind of like a dream,” David said. “I mean, just getting mobbed by everyone and just getting hugs from people just randomly. Once everything just kind of cooled down a little bit, I didn’t realize how tired I really was at the end of the night. I was just like, ‘Wow.’ “