The notion that Huntley boys basketball coach Marty Manning made after the Red Raiders' 54-37 loss to Crystal Lake Central in the "unofficial" Fox Valley Conference championship game Friday night may be hard to disagree with.
But Red Raiders' senior guard Bryce Only, playing in his last game at Huntley, took it further.
On a night where CL Central never switched from a tight man-to-man defense and held the Red Raiders (17-8) to a 29.1 percent clip on 14 of 48 shooting while lighting up Huntley with a 54 percent clip on 42 shots, Only, who scored 9 points, said it bluntly.
"They scouted our plays and knew what was coming and flat-out kicked our butts tonight," he said. "There's no way around it. There's no 'give credit where credit is due.' Crystal Lake Central did what they had to do tonight, they knew it was going to be tough, it's senior night and on our home court. They did what was necessary to win.
"You have got to match their intensity with defensive pressure, and we didn't do that."
Huntley had no answer for Tigers' point guard Brad Knoeppel, who poured in 17 points to go with 4 rebounds and 2 assists while center Kyle Fleck dominated with 14 points and hauled in 10 rebounds. Whether it was Knoeppel slicing through the lane or Fleck dominating the glass or the baseline, that combo was a major reason why Central's offense looked so fluid throughout.
The Tigers (24-3) scored the game's first 6 points and entered the second quarter up 14-5 on 7 of 13 shooting. But it didn't stop there as Huntley watched CLC make its first 7 shots of the quarter while Huntley was having a hard time finding shots to fall.
"We knew we had to come out strong and play defense," said Knoeppel, who in part helped hold the Red Raiders to 16 first-half points. "That helped our scoring a lot."
Knoeppel was fouled on a drive and converted the free throw with 5:19 to go put Central ahead 22-11 in the second quarter. On the next Central possession, Fleck popped out to the top of the key and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to up the lead to 25-11 with 4:40 left. Knoeppel's jump stop move in the lane and his rebound and outlet to Jake VanScoyoc put CLC ahead 29-11 with 3:19 left, prompting Manning to call time. Central finally missed with 2:45 left but it wasn't on a bad shot. In fact, CL Central took just seven 3s and made 3 of them. Most of the Tigers' shots were high percentage inside the arc and in transition.
"Knoeppel took it to the lane basically at will on us and when you've got your point guard scoring layups and your center shooting 3s, you're a good basketball team," said Manning.
"They were very very good and very very much better than us tonight. It's a matter of them being good. I don't want to discredit their performance, I thought they were really good defensively, they were really good offensively and I told our guys it's kind of frustrating when you come down and miss a couple layups, miss a wide open 3, they come down, they make their layups, make a 3 and it was kind of like, there's not much you can do about that. They were just flat-out better than us."
Central's size disrupted Raider shots in the lane. The Red Raiders only turned it over 8 times and nearly beat Central on the boards in a 23-22 CLC edge. But when Huntley began warming up in the third quarter, Central took its best shot and gave it right back. After Amanze Egekeze, who missed the first matchup on Dec. 14 -- a 54-46 Central win -- nailed his first basket en route to a team-high 12 points, and Tommy Regan chipped in 7 with a couple of jumpers during that span, Huntley had the deficit down to 12. But Central put it on cruise control and pushed the lead to 24.
"We're not done, this group of guys, we're not done," Only said after the loss. "We're going to come back (today), 3-hour practice, work hard, practice on Monday, practice on Tuesday and we'll be at Rockford East and we'll be fired up ready to play."