Some nights the ball goes in the basket and some nights it doesn't.
Friday was not one of those "in" nights for the Elgin boys basketball team.
A poor shooting night for the Maroons coupled with a true championship-game performance from Rockford Auburn senior Fred Van Vleet spelled the end of the season for the Maroons as Auburn walked away with a 67-56 win in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 2,500 in the title game of the Class 4A Dundee-Crown sectional in Carpentersville.
The fifth-ranked Knights (30-2) will take on Warren in the 8 p.m. supersectional at NIU's Convocation Center on Tuesday. Elgin wrapped up one of its most successful seasons with a 26-4 record.
"We fought back from a bad start but it was a poor night to miss shots and free throws like we did," said Elgin coach Mike Sitter. "We got good looks, we just couldn't get the ball to go through the basket."
Elgin made just 4 of 18 shots in the first half (1 of 10 in the first quarter) in falling behind 28-17. The Maroons shot 18-for-52 on the night from the floor and just 17-for-27 from the free-throw line. And while Auburn wasn't exactly ripping the nets off the rim, finishing 20-for-54 -- and 23 of 29 from the line -- the Knights have Van Vleet, the 6-foot point guard headed to Wichita State, and he played everything like one who is ready for the next level. Van Vleet scored a game-high 32 points, hitting 13-for-16 from the free throw line, and his play at the start of the third quarter and then two NBA-range 3-pointers midway through the fourth made all the difference in Auburn holding off Elgin's comeback bid.
"He was the best player on that team and we just tried to limit the damage he did," said Sitter of Van Vleet.
That was easier said than done for the Maroons, especially in the fourth quarter, when Van Vleet scored 15 of Auburn's 32 points.
Two sequences in the fourth won the game for the Knights, who earned their second straight sectional crown.
After Elgin made a valiant comeback in the third quarter and drew to within 35-32 when Cortez Scott made two free throws with one second left in the period, Van Vleet opened the fourth by driving to the basket, scoring and getting fouled and then making the free throw to put the Knights ahead 38-32 just 14 seconds into the fourth. After an Elgin turnover, Auburn's LaMark Foote scored to put the Knights back up by 8, 40-32.
"That was the big key," said Auburn coach Bryan Ott. "That stabilized us a little. But Elgin never quit. They're a tremendous basketball team."
Van Vleet's next and last dagger came in the form of back-to-back 3-pointers from far beyond the arc on the right wing. Elgin had crept back to within 5, 44-39, on 2 free throws from Dennis Moore with 4:57 left to play. Van Vleet then pulled up and hit a 3 at the 4:14 mark and after Elgin misfired at the other end, he drilled another from the same spot to give the Knights a 50-39 lead with 3:31 to go.
"It was just my time," said Van Vleet, who added he was playing with a stomach virus. "When big moments come, it's my time. Big moments never fail me."
The Maroons continued to fight and drew within 5, 56-51, on a 3-pointer from junior Arie Williams with 1:12 left, but Van Vleet hit 2 free throws, Foote made one and senior Javauntae Hicks (11 points, 10 rebounds) scored the Knights' final 7 points as they held Elgin off down the stretch.
"Every time we made a run they looked like the better team," Sitter said. "We fought back and fought back, we just couldn't get over the hump."
Senior Kory Brown scored a team-high 20 points for the Maroons to close out his Elgin High career with 1,270 career points, the fifth best career total in the storied history of Maroons' basketball. Brown added 10 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 assists. Williams had 16 points for Elgin and Moore added 9 in his final game at Elgin.
"We gave it all we had," said an emotional Brown, who shared a long embrace with his father in the locker room hallway. "We have no regrets. We put it all on the floor. None of us were shooting well. It seemed like it was going inside the basket and coming out. We kept our intensity up, it just wasn't our night."