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Kaneland is Northern Illinois Big XII East champions again -- but it sure wasn't easy to get there, and it wasn't easy Friday to finish it.
Not until DeKalb missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer was Kaneland able to celebrate a 57-55 win. Combined with a Sycamore blowout Friday of Morris, Kaneland's victory created a three-way tie for first place between the Knights, Sycamore and Morris at 7-3.
Kaneland stood at 3-3 three weeks ago but finished strong including wins over both Morris and Sycamore last weekend.
"We knew it was going to be a tough road to get back where we wanted to be," Kaneland senior Drew David said. "We knew all we could do from there (3-3) was win every game we played and things fell into place."
David is a four-year starter, and the Knights have won conference championships in three of those years -- every season except his sophomore one.
"It's a true testament I think to our seniors, their leadership," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "These are kids that have been very successful. Most of them play football, they have been successful on the football field, they have been successful on the basketball court. I think they were the glue."
Kaneland (16-9, 7-3) opened a 54-45 lead with the first six points of the fourth quarter, then only scored 3 more over the final five minutes while holding on for dear life in front of a nearly packed Kaneland gymnasium.
DeKalb (12-17, 4-6) pulled within 54-53 on Ethan Conroy's 3-pointer with 2 minutes left. Cole Carlson scored inside to restore a 3-point lead, but a putback by Jace Kitchen (20 points, 7 rebounds) brought the Barbs within 56-55.
With Kaneland trying to hold the ball, Kitchen came up with a steal and had a breakaway layup for the lead that missed.
The Barbs only had one team foul at that point, and when they finally got to their seventh it put Drew David at the line with 30.4 seconds left.
David missed but his brother Ryan was there for the offensive rebound. Connor Fedderly was fouled with 18 seconds to go and split his free throws for a 57-55 lead.
DeKalb called timeout with 11.3 and 7.6 seconds left and ended up with a Patrick Aves off-balance 3-point shot from the top of the key that didn't hit the rim.
"We have four seniors on the floor," Johnson said. "They are pretty savvy. Drew got the ball most of the time and was strong with it. (Ryan) keeps getting better and better. That offensive rebound was big-time."
DeKalb got off to a strong start behind sophomore Luke Davis III who scored 12 of the Barbs' first 15 points. Luckily for the Knights he got in foul trouble and finished with 17, while Drew David and Tyler Carlson hit three 3-pointers in a row for a 20-16 lead after one quarter.
"It really helped that he got in some foul trouble," Johnson said. "He's going to be a load. I can't believe we have to guard him two more years."
The Knights never trailed again but DeKalb also never fell behind by much, and whenever the Knights surged a little the Barbs fought back within 33-30 at halftime and 48-45 after three quarters.
"The DeKalb-Kaneland games in my nine years have been very good basketball games," DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman said. "We expected it to be a very good basketball game and it was. I thought our kids fought hard."
John Pruett led a balanced Kaneland attack with 13 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals. Drew David and Cole Carlson both scored 12 points, and Tyler Carlson had his string of double-digit games that dates back to early December snapped with his 9 points and 9 rebounds. Ryan David came off the bench with 6 points and 6 boards.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Drew David said of Senior Night. "Everything is just flying by. Hopefully we can make a run here."
The Knights return to their home court next week to host a Class 3A regional as the No. 1 seed against St. Francis, Marmion, Glenbard South, Aurora Central Catholic and IMSA.
"It's going to be very difficult to win a regional," Johnson said. "I think this is the hottest I've had a team going in. Hopefully we can protect our home floor."