While the gym was anything but empty, midway through the third quarter of Friday's game with Rochelle, Kaneland's basketball game had all the excitement of a gym class contest.
The visiting throng were appreciatively but politely clapping as their team slowly pulled away and the large contingent of Knights fans wasn't making much noise as the lead grew, eventually reaching 19 points.
But in the final 12 minutes of game time, the game shifted from gym class to madness and ended with happiness when the Knights emerged with a wild 65-63 victory. At the final buzzer, Kaneland's fans rushed onto the court to celebrate the improbable but incredible comeback.
"The coaches called timeout and told us to not give up," Kaneland senior Zach Ringhouse said. "They said to not let it get any worse and to fire back. They wanted us to claw and claw to get back."
There were no end of key moments in the final minutes of play, but what proved to be the winning shot came with 13 seconds left when junior Trever Heinle stole the ball and went in for a right-sided layup to put Kaneland ahead 64-63.
"Once I got that steal, I knew I was going to go in and finish and either score or get fouled," Heinle said. "I thought I got fouled, but luckily I put it up strong and it went our way."
Rochelle wasn't finished. The Hubs (12-4, 5-1 Northern Illinois Big 12) worked a solid inbounds play and had a layup from Joseph Torres come off the rim and into Daniel Helm's hands. Helm made 1-of-2 free throws and that sealed the victory.
"I think the thing they showed is that if you play hard all the time, you can make up for mistakes," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "The boys played hard and didn't give up after we had that poor start to the third quarter."
While Kaneland (11-8, 4-2) rallied a bit before the third quarter ended, Rochelle still carried a 50-38 lead into the final quarter -- and that's when the Knights' offense took charge. Kaneland scored 27 points in the fourth quarter, including 7 from Helm and 6 apiece from Chaon Denlinger and Heinle.
But no one hit bigger shots than Zach Ringhouse, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half and scored 13 of those points in the last 9 minutes.
"(Johnson) said to be ready to shoot in the second half," Ringhouse said. "He said we were going to need the points, and we did. My points -- and everyone else's points -- we needed to get them all. Coach has full confidence in me and I went out there and hit the shots."
Ringhouse hit three key 3-pointers in his barrage. The first closed the third quarter and the second opened the fourth quarter. Combined those treys took a 15-point lead and moved the Knights to within 50-41. Ringhouse's second 3-pointer came with 20 seconds to play in the game and moved Kaneland to within 63-62 and set the stage for Heinle's steal and layup.
"When we were down 19, coach was telling us not to give up and we didn't," Heinle said. "We put on our press and got some steals from that."
Helm finished with 16 points, Heinle had 13 and Kory Harner added 10 points for the Knights. But for the first half of the game, the name on everyone's lips was Rochelle's Matt Rosenwinkel. The Hubs sophomore hit six 3-pointers and had 20 points. The Knights adjusted at halftime. Rosenwinkel only scored 2 points in the second half, though he was still the game's high scorer with his 22 points.
But with Rosenwinkel scoring and Kaneland committing 13 first-half turnovers, the Knights were in a difficult position, down 31-22 at halftime. That lead grew to 46-27 midway through the third quarter before Kaneland's rally began.
"I called a timeout and got on them a little bit," Johnson said. "I was wondering what team was going to show up now. Would it be a team that disappears or a team that plays hard. They played with a lot of passion, played really hard, forced some turnovers and took care of the basketball."