Boys basketball: Dylan Hurckes’ game-winner lifts McHenry over Dixon

McHenry's Dylan Hurckes

McHENRY – McHenry junior guard Dylan Hurckes found himself staring down the biggest opportunity of his varsity basketball career in the Warriors’ 63-61 win against Dixon on Saturday.

Tied 61-all against a relentless Dixon team, the ball worked its way to Hurckes on the perimeter near the McHenry bench.

The clock showed less than 10 seconds remaining, as fans chanted down the time aloud.

Hurckes raced down the left side of the lane, and as he neared the basket, leaped and twisted his body 180 degrees, so his back was facing the backboard.

He simultaneously scooped the ball upward toward the rim, doing everything he could to avoid getting his shot blocked.

The ball swirled rapidly, clockwise, one full rotation along the outside of the rim, then dropped through the hoop calmly.

But there was nothing calm about the magnitude of the moment, as Hurckes’ heroic layup with two seconds remaining was game-winner for the Warriors (18-6), who celebrated moments later.

“I’m just happy we got the W,” Hurckes said. “I’ve never had a late-game, winning shot. So the adrenaline is definitely going for me right now.”

The moment wouldn’t have been possible without a stellar defensive play one possession earlier.

With 28.6 seconds left, Dixon (19-4) attempted to inbound the ball at the opposite end, hoping to sink a game-winner of its own.

But 6-foot-4 McHenry senior forward Hayden Stone timed his leap perfectly, and deflected the Dukes’ entry pass, forcing a steal, which set up Hurckes’ clinching bucket.

“With the amount of time we had left, I knew I had to make a defensive stop,” Stone said. “Coach [Corky] Card preaches defense, so I was happy to make him proud in that moment.”

Defense was a collective effort down the stretch for the Warriors. They held the Dukes scoreless during the first 4:48 of the fourth quarter. That was after allowing Dixon to shoot 51.3% from the field (19 for 37) over the first three quarters.

The Dukes made just two baskets in the final eight minutes.

“We just came off a really tough conference loss against Crystal Lake South last night,” Card said. “So I wasn’t sure what we’d have left in the tank down the stretch. But our guys rose to the challenge. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”

Dixon, meanwhile, made the 90-mile early morning trip to McHenry, hoping to show suburban Chicago hoops fans they’re the real deal.

Despite losing, they accomplished that mission in a big way.

Even though Dixon let McHenry shoot a red-hot 65.3% (17 for 26) in the first half, the Dukes, almost inexplicably, walked off the court at halftime with a two-point lead.

That’s because they shot 7 for 13 from 3-point range in the opening 16 minutes and forced eight turnovers.

Mason Weigle (11 points), Cullen Shaner (nine points, five assists) and Austin Hicks (team-high 18 points) gave McHenry’s defense a tremendous workout on the perimeter, with stellar ball movement that routinely created great looks.

Dixon sank 10 3s Saturday and dished out assists on 14 of its 21 baskets.

“We knew we were going to have to make shots from outside,” Dixon coach Chris Harmann said. “Because McHenry has a notable size advantage, and attacking them in the lane is no easy task.”

That didn’t stop the Dukes from trying, and at times succeeding. Darius Harrington tallied 13 points, with four of his buckets coming in the lane. He also had nine rebounds, four on the offensive glass.

At one point, it looked as if McHenry would pull away early, as it led by as many as 11 in the first half.

But Dixon finished the half in a 23-10 run. There were 17 ties or lead changes Saturday. The Dukes led by as many as seven late in the third, before the Warriors found their rhythm defensively.

It’s been an outstanding season for the Dukes, who recently ended Rockford Lutheran’s 43-game Big Northern Conference win streak, and has several statement wins of its own.

“There’s a lot of basketball left,” Harmann said. “Games like this ... they only help make us better come playoff time, and more prepared.

“For the most part, I was pleased with what I saw today. A few missed shots and turnovers here and there, but the way we’ve played has earned us lots of respect and opened a lot of eyes. Everywhere we go, people keep telling me, ‘Wow, you guys can play.’ We truly appreciate it.”