Boys basketball: Troyer Carlson, Kaneland hold off Belvidere North to reach sectional final

Kaneland’s all-time leading scorer overcomes cold streak to stave off Blue Thunder comeback attempt

Kaneland's Troyer Carlson shoots over Belvidere North's Robert Koeller Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, during their Class 3A sectional semifinal game at Kaneland High School in Maple Park.

MAPLE PARK – A dream first quarter led to a nightmare second and third for Troyer Carlson.

But the Kaneland senior point guard came up with a couple of big buckets in the fourth quarter, helping the No. 2-seeded Knights knock off No. 1-seeded Belvidere North 57-55 in the Class 3A Kaneland Sectional semifinal Wednesday.

“I started off hot, but then I got cold,” said Carlson, who finished with 20 points to add to the school-record 1,500-plus points he’s scored in his career. “But coach has so much trust in me, tells me ‘Keep shooting, you’re a great player.’ So I just kept shooting, and I made some big shots down the stretch even if I missed a ton in the second and third.”

After scoring 12 points in the first quarter but missing 10 consecutive shots in the middle two, Carlson hit a big 3-pointer in the middle of an 8-0 run to start the fourth, opening up a 44-36 lead for the Knights (26-5).

It was their biggest lead of the game, and it would not get any bigger. Carlson answered a pair of buckets by the Blue Thunder (22-12) with layups of his own. The Knights never trailed in the fourth quarter, but Belvidere never went away.

“We just grinded it out,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. “We kept believing that we could get to this point, so I’m just really, really happy with our guys and how hard they worked.”

Robert Koeller had a steal and layup with 3:32 left, bringing Belvidere to within 49-47, but it took 8 seconds for Freddy Hassan to connect on a three-point play down on the other end. Koeller later had a steal with 1:18 left and the Blue Thunder down 54-52, but Kaneland’s Parker Violett controlled the rebound with 58.2 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, Kaneland nearly turned the ball over twice but managed to get the ball to Hassan in the low post for a layup and a 56-52 lead with 18.2 seconds left. Braeden Brown hit his third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter with 2.6 seconds left to get the Kaneland lead to one, but Carlson hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2.3 seconds left to push the lead to 57-55.

“[Braeden Brown], he’s crazy,” said Hassan, who had a game-best 21 points and 13 rebounds. “He comes off screens, shoots, and it’s always in. We just focused on shutting [Adam Brown] down, and we got him in foul trouble. When he came out it was a lot easier to score and a lot easier to play defense because we only had to focus on one player.”

The Blue Thunder had time for a full-court heave, but it was offline, and the Knights advanced to the sectional final at 7 p.m. Friday against Crystal Lake South, looking for their first sectional title since 1982, according to IHSA records.

Braeden Brown scored 18, while Robert Koeller had 12 and seven rebounds. Adam Brown finished with 11.

Kaneland's Freddy Hassan grabs a rebound over Belvidere North's Joseph Brown Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, during their Class 3A sectional semifinal game at Kaneland High School in Maple Park.

Carlson shot 3 for 4 in the fourth quarter after shooting 5 for 8 in the first, finishing the game 8 for 22. While he was trying to find his shot, the Knights got a 3-pointer from Preston Popovich to kickoff the 8-0 run in the fourth. Violett had six points and seven rebounds for the Knights.

“That’s what we expect. Troyer is a great player,” Colombe said. “They did a great job on him in the middle of the game. But he’s going to find a way to make things happen. I think our big guys inside, Freddy and Park, did a nice job down the stretch. Preston Popovich hit a big 3 for us down the stretch. Great team effort for us tonight.”

Kaneland led by as many as six points in the first half, but Braeden Brown and Nathan Binkley hit 3s to end the first half and put Belvidere North up 29-28 at the break. Kaneland scored the first six points of the second half, three by Hassan, to retake the lead, although the third ended tied at 36 thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Lawrence Townsend III.

Carlson said having a player like Hassan – who scored 12 points off 10 offensive rebounds – opens things up for him and helps push him through a cold stretch like the one he went through Wednesday.

“It’s awesome having a 6-6 kid down there to dunk on kids, get shooters, get me when they face guard me to get them to help off me,” Carlson said. “It opens up so much for me. He’s a great player, then we have so many shooters around the 3-point line for the drive and kick. We’re a pretty good squad, and we got one more win to win the final.”

Next up for the Knights is the sectional’s other No. 1 seed, Crystal Lake South. The winner heads to the Hoffman Estates Supersectional at NOW Arena and will face either DePaul College Prep or Lake Forest.

“I love that we’re going to be the underdog in every game we play next,” Carlson said. “They have to come out and play the basketball. They’re a very good team watching them [Tuesday], so we’re just going to come out, play our best game and see what happens.”

Eddie Carifio

Eddie Carifio

Daily Chronicle sports editor since 2014. NIU beat writer. DeKalb, Sycamore, Kaneland, Genoa-Kingston, Indian Creek, Hiawatha and Hinckley-Big Rock coverage as well.