Grant, Kaneland hold off Sycamore to stay perfect in I8
With Kaneland trailing Sycamore in the second quarter Friday, Gavon Grant got to work on defense, grabbing four steals and helping the Knights take the lead for the first time.
With the Spartans storming back in the third, Grant scored six of Kaneland's nine points in the quarter to keep Sycamore from retaking the lead in the Knights' 52-48 win over the Spartans in an Interstate 8 Conference game.
"I was just trying to get into the passing lanes," Grant said. "Coach said that they were throwing sloppy passes, lazy passes, so I just focused in on that, went for the steals and got lucky."
Sycamore (10-18, 4-9) lost 72-52 to the Knights at Kaneland on January 6. The Spartans will head back to Maple Park for a Class 3A regional semifinal against the Knights on Feb. 22. On Friday, the Spartans led throughout the first quarter.
But in the second Grant handled things defensively for the Knights (24-5, 13-0) while Luke Wituk scored eight points in the quarter, including the only two 3-pointers Kaneland made all night.
"When he's active usually good things happen," Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. "He's got really quick hands and he can create some havoc, which he did tonight. And he did it at some key moments tonight."
After the Kaneland lead peaked at nine at halftime, Sycamore cut it back to 34-33, but Grant went on a personal 6-2 run to push the lead to five after three quarters. The lead grew to nine in the fourth, but Sycamore had one push left.
The Spartans shrunk the lead to 50-48 on a 3-pointer by Thatcher Friedrichs with 13.2 seconds left, then Grant made just one of two free throws at the end -- finishing the game 1 for 5 from the line.
Kaneland fouled to force the one-and-one free-throw situation instead of allowing the Spartans to attempt a tying 3-pointer.
"It's the best team in our league and they're undefeated for a reason," Sycamore coach Ethan Franklin said. "We had to play pretty flawless. The ball didn't bounce our way at the end but I thought our guys competed as much as they possibly could and we played a great game."
Grant finished with a game-high 15 points, five steals, three rebounds and even a block that led to a fast-break layup down the other end putting the lead at 44-35 early in the fourth.
Wituk had 10 off the bench for Kaneland and Parker Violett had nine rebounds.
Colombe said opponents have been upping their play against the Knights to try to hand them their first conference blemish, and in the playoff rematch they'll have to play much more collected to secure the win.
"Any game we're in, we talk about this all the time, we've been getting team's best shots," Colombe said. "Teams want to be the team that knocks us out in conference. No one wants to see us go undefeated in conference. It was not a goal of ours to do that, but now that we've gotten later in the season it's a goal. We just have to play loose, not tighten up like we did tonight."
Grant said he expects the team to be more focused when it faces the Spartans again in less than two weeks.
"I feel like our biggest thing is our mentality," Grant said. "I feel like coming into this game we did feel a little overly confident, thought we were going to beat them like we did last time. But we just have to have better focus. When we face them in the regional round, we just have to lock in."
The Knights can secure the perfect conference schedule with a win against Morris Tuesday. Sycamore has games against Plano and Genoa-Kingston next week.
Lucas Winburn led the Spartans with 12 points and nine rebounds. Friedrichs, Isaiah Feuerbach and Teague Hallahan each scored nine for Sycamore.
"They're tough, and to have to do it in their gym is going to add five, 10 points to what we have to overcome," Franklin said. "But we're going to be ready for the challenge in 12 days."