Longtime rival Sycamore went from enemy No. 1 to Kaneland’s new favorite team in a span of about 90 minutes Saturday night in Maple Park.
With a 50-44 win, Kaneland knocked the Spartans out of first place in the ultratight Northern Illinois Big XII East race with one game remaining.
Now the Knights become big Spartans fans, because if Sycamore (18-7, 6-3) can beat conference-leader Morris (16-7, 7-2) Friday, Kaneland (15-9, 6-3) can claim its share of a conference championship by beating DeKalb on Senior Night.
“I definitely think we are coming together at the right time of the year,” Kaneland senior Tyler Carlson said. “The 1-3-1 is working good for us and we’re playing well as a team.”
Saturday’s win followed a 47-44 victory at Morris on Friday, a game the Knights overcame a 10-point deficit with four minutes left by scoring the final 13 points.
Beating the two conference leaders on consecutive nights certainly rates as one of Kaneland’s most impressive weekends.
“I’m proud of how hard we are playing down the stretch,” Knights coach Brian Johnson said. “I really think playing teams like Hillcrest and St. Charles North and Geneva and Batavia get us prepared for moments like this.”
After 11 lead changes in the first half Saturday, the Knights never trailed in the second.
Carlson knocked down one of his numerous 14- to 18-foot jumpers from the free-throw line area that put the Knights ahead 25-24, and Cole Carlson ended the first half with a double-pump 14-footer from the baseline at the buzzer for a 27-24 lead.
“That’s his bread and butter and then he extends it outside,” Johnson said of Tyler Carlson’s midrange shooting. “He’s worked really hard to get where he’s at right now. First one here in the summer every day. He really wanted to have a great senior season and I think he is.”
After averaging 7 points a game as a junior, Carlson has upped that to 16 this year. He did nothing to hurt his average with 24 points Saturday on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 at the line.
“Drew (David) and John (Pruett) attract so much attention, I got in the middle and my shot was dropping tonight,” Carlson said. “Everyone was making great passes. It was just overall a great team effort.”
Sycamore tied Kaneland twice in the second half at 33 and 35. Carlson gave the Knights a 38-35 lead going to the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from the wing.
Carlson hit another 3 in the fourth quarter for a 43-37 lead — the last field goal for the Knights.
That didn’t matter much the way Kaneland was hitting free throws. The Knights made their first 16 from the line — all by Carlson, Pruett and Drew David — and finished 17-19.
Pruett sank a pair of free throws to make it 45-40 with 4:28 remaining.
Neither team scored for three minutes, and Carlson and David each made 2 more free throws for a 49-42 lead with 21.9 seconds left.
“We weren’t great down the stretch but we were able to do what we needed to do to get the win,” Johnson said. “It was nice to knock down our free throws. It’s been inconsistent but of late guys like John, Drew and Ty have really stepped up.”
Pruett added 10 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals.
Ben Niemann led Sycamore with 12 points; the Spartans shot 50 percent from the field (19-38) but made just 2 of 7 free throws.
Sycamore also committed 8 turnovers in the fourth quarter. With Ryan David at the top of the Knights’ 1-3-1 press, Kaneland forced two 10-second violations and an over-and-back.
“They made their free throws and we didn’t, some pretty good shooters missed some easy ones,” Spartans coach Andrew Stacy said. “Seemed like every time we forced a turnover we turned it over right back. It wasn’t the amount of turnovers, just the time. They did a good job of using their length.”