Consider Huntley's boys basketball team ready for the pressure that comes with March Madness.
The Red Raiders ended the month of February by not only prevailing in the Fox Valley Conference's first-place crossover Friday night, after back-to-back losses the last two years, but they remained unfazed by the defensive pressure applied by Grayslake Central on the Rams' home court.
Zach Gorney scored a season-high 22 points, and 6-foot-8 Amanze Egekeze added 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, as Huntley captured the unofficial FVC championship thanks to a 55-45 win.
"This is a good test for the playoffs for us because Grayslake Central really pressures you a lot," Gorney said. "I think Coach wanted to see how we could handle the pressure. I think we did a good job of handling Grayslake Central's pressure tonight."
Huntley (19-7), which opens the Class 4A state tournament at Belvidere North on Tuesday against Monday's winner between DeKalb and Belvidere North, never trailed.
"They're a great team," coach Brian Moe said after his Rams fell to 15-11. "They fill their roles well, they know who their shooters are, and they play off Amanze well. You have to double-team him. I think he scored every time he touched the ball on the block when we didn't double-team him. Then when we double-team him, the kid that we doubled off scored."
Huntley played in the FVC first-place crossover each of the last two years, losing to Crystal Lake Central last season and Grayslake Central in 2012.
"It's big for our seniors to know that we're going to go out as the first class to ever win this game," Gorney said. "It's nice to end our regular season with a win."
"More than anything, it means that we got a little momentum going into the playoffs," Huntley coach Marty Manning said after his team won its fourth in a row.
Gorney ended the opening quarter by beating the buzzer with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving the Raiders an 18-9 advantage. The 6-foot-3 forward had opened the game with a baseline bucket and also converted a three-point play, which had the visitors up 7-2.
"My teammates were finding me in great positions down low," said Gorney, who will play at Benedictine University next season. "I had good post position, and I was able to score."
Despite being held to just a pair of field goals in the second quarter, Huntley took a 22-16 lead into halftime and was up 37-30 after three thanks to a couple of 3-pointers by Blake Jacobs. The Red Raiders led by as many as 13 points in the quarter before the Rams responded with seven straight points.
But Gorney opened the fourth with a three-point play, and Riley Wicks drove the baseline and scored. When the Belmont-bound Egekeze hit 2 foul shots with 3:36 left, the lead was 51-35.
"We got the ball to Amanze a little more (in the second half)," Manning said. "He didn't shoot the ball particularly well (5 of 15), but he drew the defense in."
Gorney was often the recipient, and the senior delivered, hitting 8 of 10 shots from the floor (two 3-pointers) and going 4 of 5 from the line.
"He's got the skills both inside and outside to be able to score 15-20 points on any given night," Manning said of his 11-ppg scorer. "He was playing with a lot of confidence."
Since Grayslake Central won its 100th game in Moe's coaching career a week ago against Woodstock, the Rams have lost two in a row, though Moe notes they've faced two quality teams.
Charlie Anderson scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and Malcolm Reed added 10 for Grayslake Central, which opens the Class 3A state tourney Tuesday at home against Chicago Northside.
"(Huntley) is going to get pretty close to 25 wins this year, so they're nothing to sneeze at," Moe said. "(Woodstock and Huntley) are big, physical teams that got us ready for the playoffs."