A big cheer emanated from the Huntley crowd when 6-foot-7 junior forward Amanze Egekeze, a Division-I prospect, made his season debut with 3:28 left in the first quarter of Tuesday's home game against Crystal Lake South.
However, the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for 6-4 junior Zach Gorney, who scored 16 of his career-high 23 points in the second half to help the Red Raiders pull away from the suddenly cold-shooting Gators for a 55-42 victory in the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division.
"I think we're a really good fourth-quarter team," said Gorney, who scored 10 points in the final period. "We start really slow every game, but in the fourth quarter we usually get together and go on a little run to win. My teammates fed me perfect. They found me where I can score on the outside and inside and helped me a lot. They put me in position to score a lot of points."
Huntley led 24-23 at halftime and 36-32 after three quarters, but Gorney opened the final period with a conventional three-point play against a double team in the lane. Moments later he splashed his second 3-pointer of the half to give Huntley (9-5, 3-0) an 8-point lead. CL South (5-8, 0-1) was unable to draw within 6 points of the lead from that point forward.
"This kind of game was always in him," Huntley coach Marty Manning said of Gorney, who made 8 of 14 shots. "He's been a good outside shooter and he can score inside as well. On a night like this he kind of put it all together."
Following a jumphsot by CL South's Eric Schiller, Egekeze drilled back-to-back shots -- a baseline jumper and a shot from elbow off the dribble -- staking the Red Raiders to a 10-point lead with 4:39 to play.
Egekeze finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds in his first game back since undergoing late-September surgery to address patellar tendinitis. He said afterward it was the best his knee has felt in a very long time.
"It was awesome," said Egekeze, who already has offers from five schools, including DePaul and Loyola, and has several Big Ten programs interested in tracking his progress through the season's second half. "I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a long time coming. It was finally good to get out there and actually help the team a little bit.
"I missed a lot of easy ones, five footers. I think that was just my legs. I don't have my legs yet. (Manning) is going to keep working me a little bit more each game, give me a little bit more minutes. Hopefully, I can be back in good shape the next two or three weeks."
Egekeze played in every quarter and shot 4 of 10 from the field.
"He contributed a heckuva lot more than I thought he would, especially offensively," Manning said. "I saw him in warm-ups and he was looking like he was pretty good in warm-ups. He played a lot better than I thought he was going to."
CL South shot 10 of 17 from the field in the first half but made just 3 of 15 third-quarter attempts and 4 of 9 in the fourth quarter. Junior Austin Rogers paced the Gators with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and Schiller sank 4 of his 6 looks for 8 points, but the Gators lost the turnover battle 17-8.
"They made their open shots and we didn't during that third-quarter stretch, and they pulled away a little bit," CL South coach Matt LePage said. "Then it kind of became a confidence thing there when you get down 6, 7 against a good team. But they made open shots. (Gorney) played great and they made us pay when we left him. You have to credit him."
The victory was the fifth straight for Huntley, the two-time defending FVC Valley champion. Senior guard Bryce Only scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and senior guard Jake Wagner counted a pair of 3-pointers among his 10-points.
"We just got on our roll and it was our night," Only said. "We're just playing well right now and having fun."