HAMPSHIRE – Kaneland reserve guard Ben Barnes attempted two free throws in the closing seconds of the Knights’ IHSA Class 3A Hampshire Sectional semifinal Tuesday.
Given Kaneland’s start against Rockford Lutheran, that figured to be a possible conclusion.
The Knights overcame an early hole before watching senior guard Ty Carlson torch the Crusaders for 29 first-half points.
After halftime, however, the perch grew far less cushy, as an 11-point edge suddenly and sourly transformed into a 76-61 defeat.
“At halftime, we were really excited. The kids were pumped,” Knights coach Brian Johnson said. “I almost think it crept into their mind, like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to win this game.’ Against a team like Rockford Lutheran that’s very well-coached and has so many guys that can put it in the hole, you can’t have that mentality, and I thought that’s where our downfall started.”
The Crusaders (28-3) advanced to Friday’s regional final to face the winner of tonight’s semifinal between Sycamore and Marian Central.
A quartet of double-figure scorers – Thomas Kopelman (21), Joseph Kellen (17), James Robinson (16) and Nate Wieting (13) – turned up the urgency after the break.
Robinson proved especially effective on both ends of the floor after taking the assignment to defend Carlson in the second half.
While the senior guard closed his career with 38 points, his final nine came amid staunch pressure.
Rockford Lutheran also capitalized on Kaneland’s foul trouble, namely from senior point guard Drew David.
“When we picked up the defense, we knew we could make it happen on the offensive end,” Robinson said.
The Crusaders knew they needed some salve against Kaneland (19-10) after Carlson’s first 16 minutes, which included 5 for 5 shooting from beyond the arc and a 4 of 5 effort from the line.
“It was just one of those halves where everything I put up went in,” Carlson said. “You know, I felt good. I can’t say enough about my teammates. Drew finding me in transition was awesome, and my shots fell. That’s about it.”
Rockford Lutheran scored 31 points in the third quarter after trailing, 37-26, at halftime.
With only John Pruett (15 points) emerging as a second scoring option behind Carlson, the Knights struggled to find consistency and also were fighting heightened defensive pressure.
A Carlson 3 with 5:54 left brought Kaneland to within 57-55, but the Knights did not score again until more than four minutes later. Another Carlson 3 snapped a 14-0 Crusaders run that effectively put the game away.