As the top dog in the Fox Valley Conference, the Jacobs boys basketball team already knows the target that's on its back.
But the dogfight Crystal Lake Central presented Wednesday night during a 54-51 Jacobs win gave the Golden Eagles a crash course on what to expect on a nightly basis in the FVC.
Central (1-5, 0-2) led by many as 7 points in the first quarter, rallied from an 8-point third quarter deficit and held a 1-point lead in the final 30 seconds until Jacobs (6-0, 2-0) turned the corner with a critical steal by Nikolas Balkcom that led to Ryan Phillips' right corner 3-pointer in transition with 20.9 seconds left for a 53-51 lead. Phillips' inbounds steal near midcourt with 5 seconds left and subsequent free throw gave Jacobs its 23rd consecutive Fox Valley win, albeit a win after an weeklong layoff that was in doubt from the start.
"It kept going back and forth," said Phillips, who scored 6 points on 2 of 7 shooting. "It was just a crazy game and give credit to (Central). We talk about having the target on our back in practice and teams giving us their best shot. Tonight we saw it. Tonight we saw it and I'm sure we'll see it all year long."
Central could've expanded on its 1-point lead three times in the final 3:30 but committed 4 turnovers in that stretch. Its second led to Cameron Krutwig's spin on the right block with 2:00 left for a 50-49 Jacobs lead. Tigers center Alex Timmerman answered Krutwig in the lane to get the lead back with 1:47 left but Central failed to capitalize on Krutwig's travel with 41.9 left the subsequent turnover led to Phillips' heroics.
"I ran to the right corner and me and Nik made eye contact," Phillips said of Balkcom's steal. "And then Nik found me in the corner and made a great pass and I fortunately knocked it in for us."
"And those are hard situations, when you're up by one and it's under a minute left," Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts said. "There in that position that 'ok, we're up by one, do we go and score, do we make another pass?' And we were fortunate they made another pass and we got our hands on a couple."
It erased a horrible shooting night for the Golden Eagles, who shot a 37.5 percent clip on 56 shots. Jacobs was 13-for-39 inside the perimeter but was 8-for-17 from deep, as Mason Materna (10 points) nailed three 3-pointers in a second quarter where Jacobs outscored the Tigers 22-15 to hold a 3-point halftime lead after falling behind by 7 in the first. Central, which seemed to have a role reversal with Jacobs, was red hot going 13-for-19 in the first half, finishing 20-for-33 on 60.6 percent shooting thanks in part to Timmerman, a sophomore who had 19 points and 9 rebounds. Adam Wittenberg's 13 points and Adam Pump's three 3-pointers gave Jacobs fits all night.
"They didn't miss a shot," Krutwig said. "Credit to them, they played hard. I thought we played hard but we're going to take every team's best shot and credit to them, they didn't miss much."
Krutwig led all scorers with 20 points to go with a game-high 16 rebounds, but shot 10 of 24 from the field. Jacobs did help force 18 turnovers for Central and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.
"Obviously you hand the ball over in a tight game and it's tough," Tigers coach Rich Czeslawski said. "But for us, a good team like that you can't simulate in practice everyday. That was an incredible learning experience for our guys. We haven't been in games like this (at the varsity level). We're going to take a ton out of this."