Huntley knocked on that sectional door again Tuesday night.
Unfortunately, Rockford Auburn answered. Again.
For the third time in four seasons, the Red Raiders were ousted by the Knights in sectional play, this time 61-49 in a Class 4A semifinal at Elgin's venerable Chesbrough Field House.
When the same programs met in a 2011 sectional final and a 2012 sectional semi, it was Fred VanVleet, now an all-Missouri Valley Conference star for undefeated Wichita State, who did the Red Raiders in.
Tuesday it was a combination of factors that caused Huntley's season to close as suddenly as a corrupt email attachment, namely, Auburn's deadeye 3-point shooting and pressure defense. The Knights (27-5) forced 22 turnovers by Huntley (21-8) and drained 11 of 23 shots from 3-point range to advance to Friday's title game against the winner of today's semifinal between Jacobs (18-13) and South Elgin (17-14).
"We had 15 in the first half and that's what really hurt us," Manning said of the turnovers. "I think if we could have kept the game tight into the fourth quarter and maybe put some pressure on them, it could have been a different game.
"Beyond just the turnovers in that first half, I think we missed 3 or 4 layups and we missed 2 one-and-ones at the end of the half. If this game is tied or a 2 or 3-point game at the half, I just think it's a really different game. But it wasn't. We didn't make the plays that we needed to."
Basketball success was somewhat of a rarity at Huntley before Manning took over as coach in 2006-07. Previously, the basketball program won only 2 regionals in its history. The first was in 1988. The second came in 2001, when the Jay Teagle-coached Raiders reached a Class A supersectional, to this date the school's deepest postseason incursion.
However, since Manning arrived Huntley has enjoyed consistent success. In his eight seasons, Manning's teams have won 5 division titles in the Fox Valley Conference, including the last 4 outright FVC Valley crowns, and have mustered a record of 162-68. That means Huntley has won 70.7 percent of its games for the last eight years.
More importantly, Manning's Red Raiders have won 5 regional titles in his 8 seasons. For anyone yawning at that statistic because you've become accustomed to Huntley's recent success, don't. Winning a regional boys basketball title is hard. How much so? Until last year the Fox Valley area enjoyed the services of three IBCA hall-of-fame coaches, yet the three had combined for just 2 regional titles in the same period Manning collected 5.
It won't be easy to maintain such excellence moving forward. Huntley graduates a four-year star in Amanze Egekeze, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds in his final high school game. He leaves the program with 1,114 points, fifth on the school's all-time list behind Brad Kalsow (1,819), Corey Mader (1,377), Eric Sutter (1,332) and Pat Kalamatas (1,196).
Unlike the others, Egekeze won four conference titles.
"I would have liked to keep going, but I'm proud of what I accomplished," Egekeze said. "I can always say I did something no other player before me has done."
No, this Huntley team did not break through the sectional barrier that has confined the program, but Manning is proud of what it did accomplish.
"We wanted to win 20 games. We did that," he said. "We wanted to win conference. We did that. We wanted to win a regional. We did that.
"When you take into account some of the inexperience we have, and it kind of showed tonight with our guards, to meet those goals was quite an accomplishment. In years past we've done that with senior guards who have played and moved up in our system. So I'm really proud of our guys.
"It's tough to beat Auburn, but that's what the state tournament is supposed to be about. You get to sectionals, it's supposed to be hard."
Hard, yes. Impossible? No.
Keep doing what you're doing, Huntley. Keep playing defense. Keep doing things the right way.
Keep knocking on that sectional door.
One of these days it's going to open wide.