The Northern Illinois Big XII East basketball season has been ravaged by the unrelenting weather this winter.
But the Kaneland boys are still alive for top honors after dealing host Yorkville a crushing 63-55 loss Friday night.
Overcoming foul trouble to three key starters, including principal ballhandlers Drew David and John Pruett, Kaneland reserve Dylan Vaca hit 4 consecutive free throws and added his lone field goal — a 3-pointer from the left wing — on straight possessions.
The 7-point Vaca personal team run was the impetus for the Knights outscoring the Foxes 15-7 after guard Dakota Gette hit his third 3-pointer of the game to forge the last tie, 48-48, with four minutes and 31 seconds to play.
“I started off cold by missing my first 2 shots,” said Vaca, one of three Kaneland players in double figures with 10 points. “At halftime, I told myself that I had to step up.”
The first half was nearly disastrous as the fouls mounted for both teams in frightening fashion.
Both teams were in the double bonus early in the second quarter, and Kaneland coach Brian Johnson made the risky decision to send his two best players — Pruett and Tyler Carlson — out for the second quarter with two fouls each.
“It’s a roll of the dice,” Johnson said. “I thought the game dictated (the decision).”
“When you have two fouls (in the first half), it’s kind of hard to play your game,” Carlson said. “Our bench stepped up and played great.”
Pruett was whistled for his third foul early in the second.
But Carlson picked up the second-quarter slack, engineering a 15-6 run with a two 3-pointers to give Kaneland (13-7, 4-3) its largest lead of the game at 29-20.
Yorkville guard Josh Bondurant beat the second-quarter buzzer to reduce the Foxes’ halftime deficit to 31-25, and the Foxes (11-12, 2-4) were right back in the game early in the third quarter when Kyle Shimp, who matched Carlson for game-scoring honors with 18 points, began his 11-point run in the quarter.
“We were a little careless with the ball,” Johnson said of the Knights’ 6 third-quarter turnovers that Yorkville capitalized on artfully.
The game would essentially become a back-and-forth affair until Vaca began his decisive run midway through the final quarter.
Kanlend converted 14 of its last 15 free throws.
“They executed what they wanted to do (in the fourth quarter),” Yorkville coach Dan McGuire said of Kaneland. “They made the plays at the end, and we didn’t it. We’re kind of like on the outside looking in (for the conference race).”
Drew David finished with 11 points for Kaneland; Cole Carlson had 9 points, and Pruett had nothing but free throws in finishing with seven.
Ryan David also barely missed double digits with 9 points.