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For a team that clinched its second Northern Illinois Big XII title in three years, Kaneland walked out of the Morris gym Friday night with one glum face after another.
While the Knights watched an 11-point third quarter lead disappear as Morris got hot from 3-point range to win 50-46, it was Kaneland who earned at least a share of the conference championship when second-place Sycamore lost to Rochelle.
Kaneland (13-11, 6-3 in the NI Big XII) can win the title outright with a win at Rochelle next Friday while Sycamore (16-9, 5-4) and Morris (15-9, 5-4) can both share the crown with wins in their finales and a Kaneland loss.
It's those losses that caused all those long faces Friday despite the title. Not even learning of the Sycamore loss and championship for his team gave Knights coach Brian Johnson even a small smile.
"I don't want to take that away from the boys, they deserve it, it's nice to say that, but it would be nice to do it when you win some games and we haven't won games lately," Johnson said.
Kaneland, which lost its fifth in a row, also dropped its second straight that could have clinched the title following last week's loss to DeKalb. And all that after a seven-game winning streak.
"We had a great January and we have matched it with a poor February," Johnson said. "We didn't really do much of anything in the second half. It was just upsetting we didn't respond to Morris's energy. We were just poor on both ends of the floor especially at the free-throw line."
The Knights looked in command early against a Morris team playing without leading scorer Ben Ortiz (illness). Ortiz scored 17 of his team's 31 points in a 32-31 Kaneland win on Tyler Carlson's putback at the buzzer in the first meeting.
Kaneland took leads of 12-5 after one quarter and 27-18 at halftime by making 9 of 16 shots from the field in the first half and 5 of 7 at the line and outrebounding Morris 12-3.
Dan Miller opened the second half with a basket for Kaneland's largest lead of the night at 29-18. Morris responded with a flurry of 3-pointers including a pair from sophomore Austin Patterson and another two from Jake Hogan during a 16-4 run to take their first lead since the first minute of the game.
"The goal was to force them into driving and they came out and hit 5s in the third quarter," Johnson said. "We just have a lot to work on."
Kaneland killed itself making just 2 of 9 free throws in the second half. Morris took the lead for good at 41-38 on another Patterson 3 with 6:33 left.
Kaneland pulled within 2 at 44-42 on a John Pruett drive with 1:02 left and again at 48-46 on Drew David's 3 with 7 seconds remaining. Jason Matteson's 2 free throws with five seconds left kept the Knights from getting one last chance at forcing overtime.
Matt Limbrunner scored 14 points and David and Pruett both had 12 for the Knights while Patterson and Hogan combined for eight 3s and 30 points for Morris.
"We've lived by the 3 and died by the 3 at times," said Morris coach Joe Blumberg whose team made 5 of 7 threes in the second half and 9 of 14 in the game. "We hit big shots.
"I think the coaches knew when the season started that 6 or 7 was going to win it. It's a grind and it's not always pretty basketball but I think you have six teams that play physical basketball and play hard and it's tough to win on the road."
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH