Kaneland realized there was no margin for error heading into Friday's Northern Illinois Big 12 East matchup at DeKalb.
After stumbling in last Saturday's home game against Sycamore, the Knights rebounded with a solid all-around performance to collect a 65-55 victory and remain in the hunt for the league championship.
Kaneland (14-7, 5-3) moved into a second-place tie with DeKalb after completing the series sweep and remained one game behind league leading Rochelle, which knocked off Morris 78-58.
"It felt like after last week we were all in a dump," said Knights sophomore Thomas Williams, who led all scorers with 21 points. "We just needed to come out and tote a little more energy and intensity to get the job done."
"We had to have this one and it's nice to still be in the race, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us," said Kaneland coach Brian Johnson.
Trailing 31-30 at halftime, the Knights opened a stellar 24-point third quarter with 3-pointers from Drew David and Williams.
They closed it on a 9-4 run for a 54-48 lead, highlighted by a pair of baskets from Williams and Tyler Heinle's key steal that triggered a conventional 3-point play.
DeKalb (10-15, 5-3) stayed close thanks to a 17-point effort from 6-foot-7 junior Andre Harris and pulled to within 56-53 on Dan Matya's 3-pointer with six minutes remaining, but tallied just two points the rest of the way.
Kaneland mixed a man defense with a 1-3-1 zone to help neutralize Harris inside.
"Andre's super athletic and strong and it takes more than one guy to guard him," Johnson said.
Heinle's driving layup gave Kaneland a 60-53 lead with 2:10 left and the Knights hit 4-of-5 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
"DeKalb had some open looks that fell in some other games I've seen them play, so it was a little mix of luck and executing well down the stretch," Johnson said.
After suffering from 32 percent shooting against Sycamore, the Knights connected at a 59 percent clip from the field (19-of-32) and drained 23-of-30 free throw attempts.
"It just shows we all collectively worked and got better shooting free throws after not making very many at Sycamore," Williams said. "Everything just came together for us on the same night."
Trever Heinle and Marcus Neil contributed 10 points each for Kaneland while Dan Miller added 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
"I thought we let them control the pace of the game and do whatever they wanted to," said DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman. "That isn't the style of defense we've played over the last month."
The Knights led 21-18 after a frenetic first quarter and maintained a 30-28 advantage and the ball in the waning seconds of the second quarter, but a turnover and subsequent DeKalb 3-pointer at the buzzer put the Barbs in front.
"We had a few mishaps in the first half, but the second half we took care of the ball and we were able to execute," Johnson said.