One of A.J. Fish's biggest fans is little Kennedy Grunloh.
It was easy to see why the 3˝-year-old daughter of Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh is among those who have admired Fish's athletic feats at the school. And Tuesday night was another memorable one when Rolling Meadows visited for a boys basketball nonconference game.
Fish was honored beforehand for breaking the 1,000-point mark in his career with 28 in Friday's win over Grayslake Central. That career-high didn't last long as the 6-foot-3 senior hit his last 10 shots from the field and scored 23 of his 29 points after halftime as the Knights (13-7) held on for a 66-64 victory.
"I felt like I was letting the game come to me," Fish said after making all 9 of his second-half shots to finish 12-for-15 from the floor. "I wasn't trying to force my shot and the shots were going in."
Fish earned another admirer after scoring 14 third-quarter points to turn a 25-23 halftime lead for Meadows (5-15) into a 47-37 deficit.
"We've seen (York's David) Cohn, (Buffalo Grove's Luke) Potnick, (Prospect's Bobby) Frasco and (Schaumburg's Kyle) Bolger ... he's one of the best scorers we've seen this year," Meadows coach Kevin Katovich said of the all-state quarterback and Virginia-bound lacrosse star. "And it wasn't like he was hitting open shots. He's one of the best athletes we've seen all year."
But Meadows, which jumped out to a 14-5 lead, used its matchup zone to limit Fish to just 4 points on 2-for-5 shooting before he hit a jumper in the lane 1:25 before halftime.
"One of our focal points at halftime that we talked about was not letting him go off like that," said Meadows 6-3 junior Matt Dolan after scoring a career-high 25 points on 11-for-18 shooting. "That's exactly what he did."
Fish's third-quarter barrage came in a span of 4:36 but it also included 1 of his 3 assists to Nate Dodge for a baseline jumper. The Knights also committed only 4 of their 16 turnovers after intermission.
"I thought in the second half we came out with more energy and played better defense, and our defense was our best offense," Fish said.
"One thing we can control is defensive effort and defensive execution," Grunloh said. "If we get stops, we don't have to go against the matchup and we're going to get layups."
Or the equivalent in dangerous mid-range jumpers in transition from Fish.
"When he can square up from 10-to-15 feet and see the rim, I'd hate to see what his percentage is from that shot," Grunloh said. "I tell A.J. all the time you're going to score more if you let the flow of the offense come to you."
Meadows battled back to finish with its highest point total of the season despite losing for the fifth straight time. A 3 by Mike Dolan (7 points, 5 assists) got them within 61-58 with 29 seconds left but Grayslake North sophomore Dom Diprova hit both free throws in a bonus situation for his only points at 0:17.
Jack Milas (11 points) hit a 26-footer for his third 3 at 0:09 to cut it to 63-61 and Meadows had a chance to force overtime after Grayslake North's Nick Carmody (11 points, 5 assists) split a pair of free throws three seconds later. But Fish stole the inbound pass and hit 2 free throws to seal the victory.
"We're right on the verge of turning around our season and that's what we hope to do," Matt Dolan said after Meadows' third straight game that came down to the final possession.
"Our guys are fighting and clawing and doing a great job," Katovich said. "We just can't catch a break and get over the hump."