PLANO – Before Monday’s opening contest versus Streator at the 58th Plano Christmas Classic, the last time the Kaneland Knights competed on a varsity basketball court was during a 19-point win over West Chicago back on Dec. 11.
The COVID-19 pause didn’t seem to have produced many ill effects, as the unseeded Knights held off the No. 8-seeded Bulldogs for a scintillating 74-72, overtime victory at Reaper Gymnasium.
“We’ve been on a pause since the last time we played a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t know how we’d come out tonight against a very good Streator team,” KHS coach Ernie Colombe said. “We’d only practiced once in the past 10 days, but we showed up, battled and performed very well defensively in order to close out a great overtime win.”
After trailing by two early in the extra session, the Knights forced three consecutive Bulldogs turnovers and drained 7-of-10 free throws down the stretch to ice the tense victory.
Three of those charity tosses came off the hands of sophomore Troyer Carlson, who ultimately registered a game-high 23 points, 12 of which came over the final 12 minutes of play.
“I knew I had to step up late in the game and then in overtime. I also missed three free throws that made things much closer than it should’ve been for us,” Carlson said. “But after the long layoff between games, it was great to get back out there and win in the first round here at Plano.”
In addition to Carlson’s big night, Kaneland (5-3) saw four other players score in double figures — Jacob Harrison (14), Johnny Spallasso (12), Parker Violett (12) and Sam Gagne (10). The five accounted for all but two of Kaneland’s points.
Streator (6-4) received a team-best 22 points and 10 rebounds from senior Jack Haynes along with 21 tallies and nine boards from sophomore Christian Benning. Senior Jack Starkey also chipped in with 14 markers in his first game back in a month due to injury, but for the Bulldogs it just wasn’t enough to overcome the Knights.
“Kaneland’s defensive pressure, especially in overtime when we turned the ball over too many times, really hurt us. That falls on my shoulders. and I’m disappointed in myself as a coach,” SHS’s Beau Doty said. “This is such an important tournament for us, and we wanted to see how we could perform in the winning half of the bracket.
“But now we have to move on and see what we can do the next three days on the other side of the tournament.”
Kaneland led 17-16 after one quarter and 33-31 at the half before Streator rallied a bit behind Benning. With Haynes in foul trouble, Benning tallied eight points in the third period to help give the Bulldogs a 47-46 advantage entering the fourth frame.
There Violett scored seven points including a lay-in at 2:35 that gave the Knights a 58-57 lead. They extended it to 65-63 with 10 seconds to go after two Carlson free throws. But after a timeout, Benning raced almost coast-to-coast for a layup with five ticks left that sent the contest into the extra season.
Starkey tallied a bucket that opened overtime and gave Streator a 67-65 lead. Kaneland, however, went on a 7-0 run from there to go ahead 72-67 with 32 seconds to play before the Bulldogs countered with a bucket from Starkey and a 3-pointer off the hands of Blake Ewing with nine seconds to play to cut the Knights’ advantage to 73-72.
But Carlson nailed one of two free throws with seven seconds to go before Streator’s 3-point try at the buzzer fell short.
Kaneland now advances to the second round at Plano on Tuesday evening at 8:30 p.m., where it will face No. 1 seed Peoria Notre Dame.
Streator falls to the consolation side of the bracket, where it will take on unseeded Newark at 2 p.m.