SANDWICH – Gevon Grant lifted his jersey in frustration over an offensive foul, but the Kaneland senior kept his composure. He likewise held it together sitting the entire second quarter Friday with two fouls.
Grant knows a thing or two about perseverance.
The 6-foot guard dropped 50 pounds between last season and this one. Grant’s weight prevented him from sustaining long stretches on the court before, but he has emerged as the second-leading scorer and engine of a high-octane Kaneland team.
“What he’s done is incredible, but the biggest thing he’s done is matured as a kid,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. “Doing that in itself, putting the work in, you don’t see a lot of kids do that. It’s easy to say, even as an adult, that you want to lose the weight, but how hard is that. Every team has a player that sets the tone for them. For us, that’s Gevon.”
He was indeed a difference-maker Friday once unleashed.
Grant scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half and fueled Kaneland’s transition game with his defense and open-court ability. The Knights pulled away in the final minutes for a 62-53 win at Sandwich to remain unbeaten in the Interstate 8 Conference.
“I was just looking to push the tempo because we’re best when we’re in the open court,” said Grant, who also had four steals and two assists. “I wanted to push tempo, create shots and push it down their throats.”
With Kaneland (17-3, 8-0 Interstate 8) holding onto a three-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Grant knocked down a corner 3-pointer off a kick from Troyer Carlson. The play of the night came moments later. Grant drove around a screen, eluded two defenders with a behind the back dribble and made a scoop shot over two more Sandwich players for a three-point play, making it 54-47 with 2:37 left.
“My favorite player is Kyrie Irving. I see him do that a lot and I try to mimic it,” Grant said. “It worked out.”
It’s nothing new to Carlson, who scored 11 points, nine in the first half.
“Nobody can guard him in our conference,” Carlson said. “It’s nice having him on the floor. It spaces things out.”
Easier said than done against Sandwich (12-9, 5-3), which has made a living this season slowing teams down with a physical, high-effort defense.
The Indians led most of the way in the teams’ first meeting, an eventual 44-35 Kaneland win, and wouldn’t go away in the rematch, either.
Evan Gottlieb scored eight of his 12 points in the first quarter to keep Sandwich within 16-12, and it was a 27-25 Kaneland lead at halftime. Even late in the third quarter, when Kaneland appeared set to pull away, Sandwich’s Chance Lange made a half-court shot as time expired to keep it at 44-39.
Sandwich did its best work at the defensive end, drawing five charges. It allowed the Indians to hang in there despite 22 turnovers.
“They’re good, they’re really good,” Sandwich coach Kevin Kozan said of Kaneland. “I thought that’s two games in a row that we played them really, really well. We had good looks at the end. We just didn’t hit shots. Turnovers hurt us but I thought our defense was exceptional.”
It held Carlson to 1-for-8 shooting from the 3-point line and the 11 points, only two in the second half. Johnny Spallasso added nine points and Parker Violett six points and seven rebounds for the Knights.
Grant scored seven points during a Kaneland 12-4 run that gave the Knights some separation, 41-33 late in the third quarter. Kaneland never trailed in the second half and only trailed once over the final three quarters despite 23 turnovers forced by Sandwich.
“Having Gevon was the difference in tonight’s game. We looked a little better in the second half because the tempo changed,” Colombe said. “The first half was a dogfight. A lot of our struggles on offense is a credit to Sandwich and the style they play. It was a contrast in styles and you saw that back and forth.”
Lange added 11 points, Austin Marks 10 points and six rebounds and Owen Sheley nine rebounds for Sandwich. The Indians lost for the fourth time in five games, but Kozan saw a much better representation of his team.
“How we played tonight is who we are, and how we have to play. I felt we got away from it, and we had a tough week,” Kozan said. “I thought we played well. The effort was there.”