OTTAWA – As Kaneland and Ottawa, the top two teams in the Interstate Eight Conference, headed into Friday night’s showdown at Kingman Gym, each had a different agenda.
The Pirates were looking for any kind of a home win to stay alive in the race for the conference title.
The Knights were out to make a statement. And this time, unlike a year ago, they would not be denied.
In its chance to close out winning the crown that it missed out on in the last league game a year ago, a determined Kaneland club put on a show, scoring 21 of the game’s first 26 points and using a run of 13 straight points in the second quarter to widen that gap to 41-17, then extending their dominance throughout by shooting a sizzling 58.6% for the game in a 75-41 verdict over the Pirates.
Led by Gevon Grant’s 19 points and 14 from Troyer Carlson, the victory clinches the top spot in the I-8 at 11-0 with just three games remaining for the Knights (21-5) and the Pirates (11-11), in a distant second place at 7-4 in the I-8.
It also exorcised the demon of a late loss to Sycamore that cost the Knights a share of the trophy.
“We’ve been talking about the conference since the summer and about this night since our last conference game,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. “We feel we let one slip out of our hands, so they’re pretty hungry.
“After playing DeKalb on Tuesday, we shifted to a great Ottawa team and how tough a place this is to come into and win. Many teams come here and leave disappointed, so we wanted focus and energy, and our guys did that. They really wanted it. … We wanted to come out strong and maintain that, expand the length of time we play that strong. We’ve had stretches of five or six minutes, but tonight we looked good for several quarters, and that’s just what we needed.”
For Ottawa, a deuce by Aiden Mucci tied the game at 2-2 and a 3-pointer by Cooper Knoll got it within 9-5, but that’s where the two teams parted ways. Three buckets by Carlson and two putbacks from 6-6 Freddy Hassan capped a 12-0 burst that opened up a 16-point margin.
After the Pirates got a pair of buckets from Levi Sheehan to get as close as 11 in the second, Kaneland reeled off the next 13 points – six of those on layups by Grant – to spread the edge out to 41-17 with less than two minutes left in the half.
Five of the team-high 11 points by Payton Knoll tried to rally the hosts, but four points by Johnny Spallasso, who missed the Knights’ 82-61 win in Maple Park on Dec. 6, kept it going until a 3-pointer by Jake Gagne with 7:35 left in the fourth started the running clock.
For the game, the visitors also held a 34-22 edge on the glass, led by Grant’s eight caroms, and turned the ball over only three times to the Pirates’ 13. Ottawa shot a chilly 32.7% (16 of 49).
“Kaneland just physically overpowered us at all five spots tonight, and we weren’t able to match what they brought emotionally tonight, either,” Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. “We were on our heels defensively the whole night. If they didn’t make a shot, it seemed they were finishing off on the offensive boards. … Grant is their leader on the floor, has the ball in his hands a lot, gets in the lane and compresses your defense; and physically, they have a lot of guys who can rebound.
“Offensively, we competed just fine, but we struggled in every aspect defensively. It didn’t matter what we did, we couldn’t keep them out of the lane and off their offensive boards. … Credit them. That is a worthy conference champion.”