Boys basketball: Kaneland’s longest run in 42 years ends with sectional loss

Turnovers doom Knights in loss to Crystal Lake South

Kaneland's Evan Frieders, center, gets defended by Crystal Lake South's James Carlson, left, and Crystal Lake South's Anthony Santarelli (22) during the sectional championship game on Friday March 1, 2024, held at Kaneland High School.

MAPLE PARK – Kaneland’s season ended Friday amid a flurry of turnovers and fast breaks at the hands of an athletic, lanky Crystal Lake South team in the Class 4A Kaneland Sectional championship game.

The 69-38 loss to the Gators (31-3) ended the deepest postseason run for the Knights since 1982, as well as the most successful two-year run in program history.

“I just love this team a lot,” said Kaneland senior forward Parker Violett, who scored four points and had seven rebounds. “All the bonding. Everybody just loved each other, trusted each other with everything they had. Hanging out every day and all, that was fun, all the practices.”

Kaneland (26-6) committed nine first-quarter turnovers and didn’t get its first field goal until the 6:47 mark of the second quarter. That 3-pointer by Brad Franck cut the Gators’ lead to 19-8.

But the turnovers didn’t stop in the first half, and neither did the Crystal Lake fast-break offense, which carried a 39-18 lead into the break after scoring 19 points off 16 Kaneland turnovers.

“There were a lot of live-ball turnovers where it led to a run-out,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. “It’s not like we turned it over and got back on defense because the ball went out of bounds. They were live turnovers where we couldn’t get back and they were in transition.”

Crystal Lake South’s lead grew to 28 in the third quarter and the Gators achieved the running clock with 5:56 left in the game when their lead hit 30 points for the first time.

Kaneland shot 10 of 41 from the floor and 2 for 16 from long range.

“It was probably one of our worst shooting nights of the year,” Colombe said. “I think some of that is a credit to them. Their length really bothered us and we struggled with that tonight.”

AJ Demirov had a game-best 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Gators. He and Kaneland senior guard Troyer Carlson, who scored 10, were the only players to reach double digits.

The Knights finished the game with 18 turnovers.

“There were a lot of turnovers, but it’s just the game,” Violett said. “They kept trapping us. They were lengthy, you can’t do anything about that. They’re just a good team.”

Colombe said it was the first time the Knights reached the state’s sweet 16 since 1982. The team also tied a program record with 26 wins, matching last year. They were back-to-back Interstate 8 champions, and this year’s regional title was the first since 2016.

Carlson also passed the 1,500-point threshold to become the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Colombe said the group of seniors, seven including starters Violett, Carlson and Franck, set the template for the younger players to follow next year and beyond.

“We want to be in big games like this. We want this to be something our program strives for,” Colombe said. “That takes a lot of work, and our seniors have been a part of ... back-to-back 26-win seasons. That took a lot of work. It didn’t just happen. ... If we want to keep doing this we have to keep doing that work.”

The Knights return a lot of key rotation players next year, including 6-6 starting junior forward Freddy Hassan and 6-5 starting sophomore guard Evan Frieders. Sophomore guard Isaiah Gipson was in heavy rotation use and scored five off the bench Friday, while 6-8 freshman forward Jeffrey Hassan had limited playing time at the varsity level.

“Oh, they’ll be unbelievable next year,” Violett said. “We have Freddy as a senior next year, then we have Jeffrey as a sophomore, and we still have Evan and Zay. Hopefully, Jeffrey becomes bigger.”

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