Grant, Kaneland storm back in second half to top Sycamore in regional semifinal
Down 11 to Syacmore at halftime of a Class 3A Kaneland regional semifinal, Gevon Grant and the Kaneland basketball team knew how they had to respond.
"We knew we could do it," Grant said. "We beat this team two times before, so we knew it was in us. We just had to execute."
Execute the Knights did, scoring 21 of the first 23 points in the third quarter to take control and beat the Spartans for the third time this year, 70-59.
With the win, Kaneland (26-5) tied the program record for wins in a season. The Knights also advanced to the regional final, in which they'll face a Marmion team that beat Plano 80-52 in the other semifinal to improve to 20-11, the most wins in a season for the program since 1976.
Down 40-29 at the break, Freddy Hassan scored the first five Kaneland points in less than a minute to open the second half, then Grant added a 3-pointer. After a layup by Sycamore's Thatcher Friedrichs, the Knights scored the next 14 points, with six different players scoring during the run.
"Early on we were kind of tight," Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. "I thought Sycamore did a great job early. I thought we were a step slow defensively. We had to keep grinding away. We kept telling them we can make a run here. We can't get down and get tight. The team stayed loose and in the second half we played a little bit more like ourselves."
Sycamore (11-20) got to within 51-48 late in the third but never got within one possession again.
Early on was a different story for the Spartans, who after Kaneland took an 8-6 lead on a 3-pointer by Grant, rolled off seven straight as part of a 15-2 run to go up 21-10 in the first quarter.
Kaneland never got closer than eight in the first half, and Tyler Shipley put an exclamation mark on the first half by draining a half-court shot at the buzzer.
"It was great. It was unfortunate we couldn't finish it out," Sycamore coach Ethan Franklin said. "We executed our game plan perfectly in the first half and just didn't respond quickly enough when they put the run on in the third quarter."
Lucas Winburn led the Spartans with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Shipley scored 12 off the bench.
Kaneland allowed 40 first-half points and just 19 in the final 16 minutes.
"We weren't happy with how we played defense in the first half," Colombe said. "We played pretty well defensively all year and that was unacceptable to the guys and our whole team. We needed to tighten up and communicate better, and we did a good job of that."
Grant finished with 17 for the Knights to go with three steals. Johnny Spallasso added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Hassan had 12 points.
"The first half... they just wanted it more than us," Grant said. "We were not hitting shots. Second half, we just locked in mentally."
Franklin said he has a young team and he's excited to see what they can do next year after learning on-the-job this season.
"It was a weird year," Franklin said. "We had eight freshmen or sophomores play significant minutes at times this season. That's kind of crazy to say out loud. We were very up and down. But I feel like we've set a foundation to be really, really good moving forward. Those young guys are going to be coming into next season with a ton of experience and we're going to do whatever it takes to be on the other side of that a year from now."
The Knights will face Marmion at 6 p.m. Saturday. Not only can they become the winningest program in school history, but they can win a regional for the first time since 2016.
"We're making history and it just feels good," Grant said. "Especially during my senior season."