Kaneland senior forward Tyler Carlson reigned in the first half Tuesday, hitting Rockford Lutheran with 29 points.
Then came a second-half deluge that knocked the Knights out of the playoffs.
Countering an 11-point halftime deficit Rockford Lutheran turned up the defense, leading to a 50-point second half and a 76-61 Crusaders victory in this Class 3A Hampshire sectional semifinal.
"At halftime we were really excited, the kids were pumped, and I almost think it crept into their mind like, yeah, we're going to win this game," said Kaneland coach Brian Johnson.
"Against a team like Rockford Lutheran that's very well coached and has so many guys that can put it in the hole you just can't have that mentality. I thought that's where our downfall started and then they kind of put it on us," said Johnson, whose Knights finished with a record of 18-10.
Rockford Lutheran (28-3) advances to Friday's sectional final against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Sycamore and Marian Central.
"We really just didn't want to play scared in the second half," said Crusaders coach Tom Guse. "I felt like we had to pick up the tempo a lot and the kids did."
Held to 6 points in the first half, Rockford Lutheran senior guard Thomas Kopelman, the program's all-time leading scorer, finished with 21 to lead four Crusaders in double figures.
It was Rockford Lutheran guard Joseph Kellen, though, who sank three early 3-pointers for a 17-9 lead.
Carlson also came out on fire. He ended the first quarter on a three-point play for his 12th point to help the Knights get within 19-16 after one quarter.
The 6-foot-3 senior piled on with 17 points, including four 3-pointers, for a 29-point first half that had Kaneland up 37-26 at halftime.
"At one point I looked up at the scoreboard and we had 29 and he had 24," Johnson said.
Carlson made seven 3s on the night and grabbed 13 rebounds as well, with John Pruett adding 15 points and 7 boards overall while guarding Kopelman.
"It was just one of those halves where just everything I put up went in. It felt good," said Carlson, whose 38 points topped his prior high of 33 on Feb. 7 at Rochelle.
"I can't say enough about my teammates," Carlson said. "Drew (David) finding me in transition, it was awesome. My shots fell, that's about it."
Guse noticed. He took Kopelman off Carlson and quick, strong, sophomore guard James Robinson limited Carlson to 1 point in the third quarter, 8 in the fourth.
"They just told me to put more pressure up on him and don't let him catch the ball," Robinson said.
"I think the defensive switch from James to Carlson was a big difference, but I think it was more in the second half our guys getting quicker to the loose balls, getting to the rebounds," Guse said.
"We had zero rebounds in the second quarter, and that was just unacceptable. We challenged them at halftime and they answered the bell in the second half."
Forcing Kaneland into 6 third-quarter turnovers and also getting Knights point guard David into foul trouble, the Crusaders outscored Kaneland 31-11 in the third quarter.
Robinson's fast hands and brawn led the transition game and got his teammates into the act. He scored 10 of his 17 points in the quarter, post player Nate Wieting 8 of his 13 and Kopelman 9 to post a 57-48 lead entering the fourth quarter.
"When we picked up the defense we knew we could make it happen on the offense," Robinson said.
Carlson and Pruett combined on a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter to get the Knights within 57-55 with 5:54 left to play.
Guse called a timeout and once back on the floor Kopelman wove through the paint to find Kellen for another 3 that started a 14-0 Rockford Lutheran run, the knockout blow, as Kaneland was unable to score until 1:53 remained.
"(They) called a timeout and I thought we had something left to go into, the crowd was getting up on their feet," Carlson said. "But they made another run. That No. 4 kid (Kopelman) is a great player. We knew he was going to come out and play in the second half and he did."
The Knights return a solid core including junior Connor Fedderly and sophomores Drew Vaca and Ryan David, but will move on without regional final hero David, Pruett, Tyler Carlson, Cole Carlson, Tom VanBogaert and Eric Przbylski.
"Obviously I'm proud of what these young men have done. You know, you get down big and you make a nice strong comeback. You turn the ball over and that's always going to kill you," Johnson said.
"They've been around a long time," he said. "Drew's an outstanding young man who's been with me for four years. I told the boys, whoever replaces him has big shoes to fill and I hope they learn from him. It's tough when you lose great kids. You wish you could hold onto them all the time."