There's a bit of Dr. Bruce Banner in 6-foot-8 Huntley senior Amanze Egekeze, so it's not wise to make him angry.
The Crystal Lake South student section did its best to irritate the Belmont-bound Egekeze by serenading him with chants of "over-rated, over-rated" throughout the first half, but Egekeze kept his cool while registering 10 points and 10 rebounds by halftime.
"I don't think the crowd affects him as much as he gets upset when the officials aren't calling fouls when he's getting fouled," Huntley coach Marty Manning said. "Then he gets his angry face on and he really starts attacking the basket."
Rather than turn into the Incredible Sulk because he wasn't getting calls, Egekeze channeled his anger in the second half and morphed into an unstoppable force. He began driving to the basket with regularity, taking his defender off the dribble. He scored 7 of Huntley's points during a 12-3 third-quarter run that allowed the Red Raiders to gain separation in an eventual 58-48 win at The Swamp in Crystal Lake.
"I felt like I was getting hacked, so I used that as motivation," said Egekeze, who scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the second half to help Huntley win its eighth straight and improve to 13-4 overall, 6-0 in the Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference.
CL South, playing its second game since leading scorer and rebounder Austin Rogers was lost for the season due to a knee injury, slipped to 13-6, 2-4.
The Gators stayed with the three-time defending FVC Valley champs into the third quarter. An up-and-under baseline move by 6-5 sophomore Wes Buckner around Egekeze drew them within 33-31 with 5:12 left in the third.
Egekeze responded with a strong drive to the basket. He then scored on a putback on Huntley's next possession and was fouled for a three-point play. Senior Riley Wicks converted a layup on a press-break seconds later to stake the Red Raiders a 40-33 lead after three quarters. Wicks finished with 7 points and 4 rebounds.
"I thought Amanze and Riley had some really nice looks at the basket," Manning said. We were able to get layups instead of jump shots and that helped us out on the offensive end."
Defensively, Huntley's switch from man-to-man defense to zone gave CL South trouble. The Gators sank only 4-of-15 shots in the third quarter, 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
"Our shots didn't fall in the third when we needed to make shots to match Amanze," CL South coach Matt LePage said. "The effort was there. We played extremely hard on the defensive end and sometimes that's going to hurt your offense. I thought tonight was a little bit of that."
"They're a very good shooting team, but they didn't make them tonight," Manning said. "We got lucky in that respect."
Huntley committed 9 first-half turnovers but made only 3 in the second half. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders controlled the boards 32-17, a stark turnaround from Friday's 3-point win over Jacobs in which they were outrebounded 25-11.
"We got beat pretty bad on the boards the last game we played," said Egekeze, who finished with 11 rebounds. "We made that a point of emphasis, to try to come out and dominate the boards."
Senior forward Chris Mahoney and senior guard Caleb Johnson had 8 points and junior forward Kyle Bartusch added 7 points for CL South. Zach Gorney scored 7 points and snared 7 second-half rebounds, and guards Kyle Slonka and Jack Bessey each contributed 6 points for Huntley, which faces another FVC Valley road test Saturday at Cary-Grove (11-8, 4-2).