In the opening quarter of Friday night's Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference showdown in Yorkville, Kaneland put on an exhibition of top flight high school basketball.
The Knights dominated not just both halves of the floor, but every inch of it. They did whatever they wanted with the ball, shut down Yorkville's offense, led 25-7 after one quarter, and the game actually seemed even more one-sided than that score would suggest.
By the time the final horn sounded, not a second too soon as far as the Knights were concerned, they would need every single point that they managed to wring out of the final three quarters, as they held on for a 53-52 win.
The win puts Kaneland (16-8, 7-2) in a position to win the conference title going into next week's game at Rochelle. The Hubs also are 7-2 after their 88-87 win over DeKalb Friday in double overtime.
Led by Chaon Denlinger and Daniel Helm, who combined to score 21 points in the opening quarter, the Knights sprinted to a 9-0 lead, three minutes into the game.
"They beat us by 20 the first time, and maybe they underestimated us a little bit," Denlinger said. "There were a lot of open lanes to drive, and open shots, and we hit them."
Denlinger knocked down a trio of 3s in the first quarter to stake Kaneland to a 25-5 lead as Yorkville (15-10, 5-4) scrambled to find an answer.
The Foxes scored the last hoop of the first quarter. At the time it did not seem especially significant. But the next time Kaneland would score, its lead would be down to 8.
"Early on, we caught fire and caught them off-guard," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "But we knew the lead wasn't going to stay as big as it had been, not against a team like Yorkville."
The game's turnaround was not gradual, it was sudden, as if two different teams had taken the floor to start the second quarter. Kaneland began handling the ball as though it was covered in grease. The Knights committed 10 turnovers in the second quarter, and in the process relinquished every bit of momentum that they worked so hard to build at the start of the game.
"We did have a lot of turnovers, but that's going to happen against a team like that," Johnson said. "I was so proud of the way the boys came out ready to go and play hard on (Yorkville's) home floor."
Kaneland held a 29-21 lead at the break, and the Foxes would trim that gap to 30-25 midway through the third quarter, as the Knights managed just one hoop over a 12-minute stretch that began at the end of the first quarter, included all of the second, and the first 3 minutes of the third.
Yorkville's Ryan Herron took control of the floor in the second half, scoring 12 of his game-high 17 in the final 16 minutes. Herron and teammate Jordan Jones kept the Foxes within striking distance, and when fellow senior Derek Fitzpatrick closed out the third quarter with a 3-pointer, everything appeared to be moving in Yorkville's direction.
"If (Yorkville) had gotten the lead they would've been tough to beat," Kaneland's Tyler Callaghan said.
Callaghan stepped up in the second half to give his team a much needed physical presence, while also knocking down a pair of key baskets. But it was one the smallest guys on the floor who would prove to be the difference-maker down the stretch.
Zach Ringhouse can help the Knights win games in a variety of ways. One of the biggest is at the free-throw line, where he is shooting just a fraction under 90 percent.
Ringhouse, who began the fourth quarter by nailing a 3-pointer, was exactly the player Kaneland wanted on the line in the final seconds. And that's where he found himself with 13.1 left and his team clinging to a 51-50 lead.
"I just stepped up there, I knew the gym was going to be really loud, but I stayed focused on the basket, and calm as possible," Ringhouse said.
After Ringhouse sank both free throws, the Foxes had one final gasp. But when Fitzpatrick's 3-point attempt failed, they had to settle for two. With 1.1 showing on the clock, all Kaneland had to do was inbound the ball, and again they called on Ringhouse, who got the job done.
"We were able to shut them down, and get some timely rebounds toward the end of the game," Johnson said. "That was a really big win, and it was nice to see the boys finish it off."