Boys basketball: Crystal Lake South rolls past Kaneland for Class 3A sectional title

Crystal Lake South's AJ Demirov raises the championship trophy as players and fans celebrate Souths win over Kaneland in the IHSA Class 3A Kaneland Boys Basketball Sectional championship game on Friday, March 1, 2024, at Kaneland High School in Maple Park.

MAPLE PARK – Crystal Lake South developed a habit of imposing its will on opponents all season, with a suffocating 1-3-1 zone defense that often led to easy transition baskets.

The Gators were able to stick with that plan again Friday night, doing whatever they wanted against Kaneland on their way to a 69-38 victory in the Class 3A Kaneland Sectional championship game.

“We’re getting off to really good starts, we’re rolling,” South forward James Carlson said. “We came out hot, our defense is playing well. There’s a ton of energy on the bench, credit to those guys always helping us through practice. I’m so glad to see it all coming together.”

The Gators (31-3) forced 15 first-half turnovers, many of which led to layups, as they rolled to their second sectional title in school history, joining the 1983 team. South will face DePaul College Prep at 6 p.m. Monday in the Hoffman Estates Supersectional at the NOW Arena. DePaul defeated Lake Forest 36-21 for the St. Viator Sectional title Friday.

South held the Knights (26-6) without a field goal in the first quarter, forcing eight turnovers. They picked up seven more in the second quarter.

“We watched a lot of film on them and found out their tendencies and we were just tearing them apart,” Gators forward Colton Hess said. “We wanted to take the ball out of 10′s [Troyer Carlson] hands as much as possible, because he really controlled everything. Once we did that it created offense.”

The only Gator who made a field goal outside the lane in the first half was point guard AJ Demirov, who scored a game-high 25 points. He also had nine rebounds and nine assists.

Demirov went off for 17 second-quarter points and delighted the Gators’ fans with an alley-oop toss to CJ Regillio for a dunk in the third quarter.

“We brought it right from the tip,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “We were almost over amped-up, we were fouling a little bit and that was their only offense, free throws.

“Once we settled down, it was like a slow burn. The pressure kept coming and kept coming, we turned defense into offense, AJ got loose and in this environment, with a guy like him, we’re glad he plays for us. He had a great second quarter, he was trusting guys. Our transition game, defense to offense, was a factor. As a collective unit, defensively, that may have been our best game of the year. It was stifling.”

LePage would get no argument from Knights coach Ernie Colombe. Kaneland had no answers for dealing with South’s size – four starters 6-foot-5 or taller.

“We watched a lot of film on them and found out their tendencies and we were just tearing them apart.”

—  Crystal Lake South forward Colton Hess

“Their length, their size, they’re physical, it’s a credit to them,” Colombe said. “The turnovers we had were a lot of live-ball turnovers where it led to a run-out. It’s not like we turned it over and ran back on defense because the ball went out of bounds. Live turnovers where we couldn’t get back and they’re in transition.

“Their length bothered us and it was probably one of our worst shooting nights of the year. Some of that is a credit to them, their length really bothered us. They’re extremely physical and we struggled with that tonight.”

Kaneland shot 23.3% from the field (10 of 43). The Gators forced a running clock in both of their sectional games with a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“Our team feeds off that energy of getting turnovers and getting fast breaks,” Regillio said. “It keeps the game going.”

South added to its school record and now plays in a supersectional for the second time in school history.

“It feels pretty good, the first time in 41 years,” Regillio said. “It’s a great feeling for the team.”

Regillio and Carlson scored nine points each, Hess added seven and Christian Rohde had six.

Troyer Carlson led Kaneland with 10.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” James Carlson said. “We’ve come so far from feeder all the way up, working with each other for so many years. I’m so happy to see it all coming together.”