OTTAWA – Sometimes a high school basketball game can be like a merry-go-round in the school yard. Depending on who is making it spin around, it can be a nice and steady ride or it can be one that has you hanging on with everything you’ve got.
The Ottawa boys basketball team held what seemed like a comfortable 15-point lead over visiting Kaneland with five minutes remaining in the third quarter of Monday’s Interstate Eight Conference contest at Kingman Gym.
However, the Knights rallied and trailed by a point with 1:32 to play. From there, however, free throws by Levi Sholders and Evan Evola plus two more by Anthony Cooper with 12.3 seconds left helped the hosts escape with a 45-42 triumph to improve to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the league.
Cooper netted a game-high 26 points, including 19 in the first half with five 3s, to help give his team a 30-15 lead at the break. Luke Cushing finished with eight points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals for Ottawa.
Kaneland’s Jamari Meeks led his team with 17 points – 14 in the second half – with David Kolev netting eight and Jacob Harrison seven.
“We needed to be better tonight on the defensive end and on the defensive boards. We were plus-12 [31-19] on the boards, and that was important for us,” said Ottawa coach Mark Cooper, whose team held the Knights to 33% shooting in the first half, but 55% in the second. “When we stayed disciplined on defense tonight, I thought we were pretty good, but I thought we took a few unnecessary chances in the second half and ended up allowing some buckets because of it.
“Give Kaneland credit, they guarded hard for all four quarters and put us into a position where we weren’t running good offense. We also missed a handful of shots right at the rim, especially in the second half.”
Ottawa ran to a 15-10 first-quarter advantage with Cooper scoring eight and Cushing five. Cooper took over the second quarter, scoring 11 more points, including a pair of step-back 3-pointers from the top of the key in the final minute.
“[Anthony] is capable offensively of carrying us at times, and he made shots in the first half that allowed us to gain a comfortable lead,” Mark Cooper said. “We still have to find a way to score a little more inside, but we have guys that are capable of scoring, so it doesn’t have to any one guy that has to be that second main scorer for us.”
Kaneland (2-3, 2-3 I-8) used a 9-3 run to close the third quarter to cut the disadvantage to 39-30, as Meeks scored nine in the quarter.
After a free throw by Cushing in the first half minute of the fourth, the Knights went on a 9-0 run with Meeks scoring five straight points and a short hook shot by Kolev to make it 41-39 Ottawa with 2:35 to go.
From there, Cooper and Brady Popvich traded foul shots before the aforementioned free throws by Sholders and Evola.
“The kids played hard tonight, but came up just a little short at the end.”— Kaneland boys basketball coach Ernie Colombe
“We only really made one change on defense after halftime. Cooper was hurting us, so we had to change up how we were defending him, but he is a really good player and had a nice game, so hats off to him,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said.
“Offensively, we were out of sync in the first half. We said at halftime that we needed to slow things down and simplify things. I thought we were playing way too fast and out of control and taking too many contested jumpers.
“We wanted to cut Ottawa’s lead in half heading to the fourth quarter and really just settle things down. The kids played hard tonight, but came up just a little short at the end.”
Both teams are scheduled back in action Wednesday. Ottawa will be at Rochelle, while Kaneland travels to Sandwich.