MAPLE PARK – The Kaneland varsity boys basketball team is simply trying to get its legs back into game shape.
On Tuesday Kaneland played only its third game since Dec. 11 because of a pair of season pauses for COVID-19-related reasons. The Knights were able to squeeze in only one game at the Plano Christmas Classic before being sidelined again until Tuesday, when they returned to beat Morris, 70-61, in the Interstate Eight Conference.
“We went on a little pause before the Plano tournament and then we played one game,” Knights coach Ernie Colombe said. “The Plano tournament, we did not practice; we actually brought them [for a light practice on] the first day we could come back was [Dec. 27] … then we went right right back on pause until Monday after break.
“So we’ve gotten one full practice in since like Dec. 16 or 17. So really proud of their effort and their energy. Obviously, as coaches, we always nit-pick, and there’s plenty of areas where we can improve, and we think we will. It’s just nice to know we can gut out a win when we need to.”
Sophomore guard Troyer Carlson finished with 27 points and four rebounds to spark Kaneland (6-3, 2-2). He was supplemented by Johnny Spallasso’s 16 points. Parker Violett had eight points and three rebounds.
Perhaps where the Knights shined brightest Tuesday was by coaxing 19 Morris (8-5, 1-4) turnovers on the night.
“I just knew coming into this game I needed to give my team energy, and we all came out [with] energy,” Carlson said. “We played good defensively. We gave up 61 points, but we pressured them. We knew what we needed to do on the defensive end. The defense [translates] to offense and we just hustled and out-hustled them.”
To Carlson, Spallasso is a “great player” and can “take anybody off the dribble.”
“He’s a good defensive player; probably one of our best defensive players,” Carlson said. “He can shut down anyone. If he needs to get a bucket, he’ll get a bucket.”
While on pause, Carlson kept himself busy by practicing where he could.
“It was tough, but we brought energy. We knew we could get the job done,” Carlson said.
Kaneland took a 58-44 lead into the fourth quarter, but Morris was able to claw back within seven after a 9-3 run in the opening minutes, which was capped by Gage Phillips’ 3-pointer with 3:40 remaining.
Carlson, who had 10 points in the fourth quarter, answered with a three of his own. Morris forward Henry Hensen then hit two free throws, but Carlson hit two himself in response before a predominant battle of free throws stretched the remainder of the game.
Morris was paced by Phillips and Hensen pouring in 18 points apiece, while AJ Zweeres had 11 points.
“We have a sophomore point guard [Zweeres] who I think is improving a lot,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. “We haven’t had our unanimous all-conference point guard yet [Myles Johnston]. He’s still out with a football injury. We’re hoping next Friday he is back. We’re short-handed; we’re injured. I’m proud of our guys for competing.”
“We couldn’t get key stops when we needed. I thought we battled back in the game. Get it to [seven] and then we don’t know who we’re guarding and give up a three. Those are killers.”