The Huntley boys basketball players showed Wednesday what they've been working on so intently since they last faced Crystal Lake Central in the Jacobs Holiday Tournament championship game: defense.
Unlike their previous clash on Dec. 23, which Huntley won 55-49 to capture its second tournament title of the season, the Red Raiders kept the visiting Tigers from developing any offensive rhythm in a 56-35 Fox Valley Conference crossover victory.
Huntley (11-1) held CL Central (11-2) to 33.3-percent shooting (14 of 42) and limited the Tigers' second-chance opportunities by dominating the rebounding battle 34-14.
"I thought our defense was really good, and on top of that we didn't give them second chances by rebounding the ball really well on the defensive end," Huntley coach Marty Manning said. "Offensively, we were good enough to score some points."
The Red Raiders said the win was the result of hard practices over the holiday break, which grew more intense each day, culminating in a 15-point improvement in the margin of victory since the last time Huntley defeated otherwise unblemished CL Central.
"We knew they were going to come and want to beat us really bad the second time, so we made sure the practices were intense," Egekeze said. "We just kept improving every day and kept getting after it. We focused in and studied their personnel much better the second time, so that's why we were able to hold them to less points."
With 12 days to prepare for the Tigers instead of 24 hours like the last time the teams met, Huntley did a better job of limiting certain CL Central individual scoring threats.
"I don't want to put down any of their players, but I thought there were things we could do to their personnel to make them uncomfortable," Manning said. "I thought we did a much better job in this game than the last time we played them."
The Tigers themselves were partly to blame, according to their coach.
"I think it was a combination of the way Huntley plays defense and us not showing up," CL Central coach Rich Czeslawski said. "We've got two problems right now: 1. We want things to be easy; 2. We're starting to see our chemistry deteriorate a little bit and I'm not sure what's causing that.
"But we came out flat, and I put that on me as a coach. We didn't have them ready to go today when we took the floor."
Huntley jumped to a 17-10 lead after one quarter and expanded its advantage to 29-16 at halftime. The Red Raiders sank 5 of 6 attempts from 3-point range in the first half, thanks to a pair of long-distance shots by Troy Miller (9 points) and 3-pointers from Jake Brock, Justin Frederick and Egekeze.
Huntley also outrebounded the Tigers16-7 in the first half, just the start of an ongoing trend.
"They have somewhat of a height advantage on us," noted Huntley 6-foot-1 junior Bryce Only, who nevertheless grabbed 7 rebounds to go with 6 points. "They have Kyle Fleck, who is 6-7, and Nick (Marchetti), who is 6-3. Coach definitely made it an emphasis. We did a lot of rebounding drills this week, getting offensive rebounds and going back up strong and finishing, blocking out."
Egekeze was the game's leading scorer (17 points) on 8-of-10 shooting and the game's top rebounder (12). He was supported by Only, Miller's 9 points, Frederick (11 points), TJ Adams (5 rebounds), 6-2 senior Ryan Lussow (6 points) and Brock (5 points).
CL Central was led by senior guard Chase Cane (10 points) and 6-3 junior Corban Murphy (9 points, 3 rebounds). Fleck was held to 6 points and 4 rebounds, Marchetti scored 2 points and junior guard Brad Knoeppel finished with 5 points.