ELGIN – Huntley knew exactly what Rockford Auburn wanted to do on defense – intense man-to-man pressure, overplaying in passing lanes, anything to make the Red Raiders play faster.
But knowing what was coming and actually dealing with it in person are completely different animals.
Auburn turned Huntley over 15 times in the first half, which enabled the Knights to build a seven-point halftime lead. Every time the Raiders made a slight run, Auburn answered, usually with a 3-pointer, as the Knights came away with a 61-49 victory in a Class 4A Elgin Sectional semifinal in boys basketball Tuesday at Chesbrough Field House.
“They want to speed you up, make you play at a certain pace,” Huntley senior Amanze Egekeze said. “We could have handled it better. A lot of the turnovers were just our mistakes. Unfortunately, those really cost us.”
Auburn (27-5) also hit 11 3-pointers and put four players in double figures to advance to Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game. The Knights will meet Jacobs (18-14) or South Elgin (17-14), who play in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. semifinal.
Huntley (21-8) cut its turnovers to eight in the second half, but could not cut the margin to less than five points.
“We experienced what we were going to go through [in the first half] and set a slower tempo [in the second half],” Huntley point guard Kyle Slonka said. “We calmed down a little bit and made the smart pass and used our heads. We knew they were going to come out and pressure like that, but we never quite saw a defense like that. It was tough to adjust to.”
Egekeze finished his standout, four-year varsity career with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots. Two short jumpers from the right baseline and a Zach Gorney free throw trimmed Auburn’s 11-point lead to 34-28 with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter.
The Knights did not let Huntley any closer and led by double figures most of the fourth quarter.
“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,” Raiders coach Marty Manning said. “We just had too many turnovers in the first half. It’s hard to come from behind against a team with four really good guards who can break you down like they can.”
Laytwan Porter and Zavious Hoover scored 12 points each to lead the Knights, while Malik Minor and Nylek Cobb added 10 each.
“We wanted to play out of their comfort zone,” said Porter, who along with guard Antoine Pittman is receiving NCAA Division I interest. “We wanted them to go fast and speed the ball up and try to force turnovers. Just play at our speed, a fast game, and try to play great defense.”
Knights coach Bryan Ott felt the first half, defensively, was just what Auburn needed.
“I didn’t think that would be easy to do and our guys worked pretty hard to get it,” Ott said. “They don’t make it easy. We get a lot of offense out of our defense, not as much tonight as I would have liked. They’re a very good team. Not being able to take advantage sometimes is a credit to them.”
Raiders forward Riley Wicks scored 13 points, with eight in the first half. Freshman Jack Bessey scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter.
Egekeze, a 6-foot-8 forward headed to D-I Belmont, got a dunk off of a Huntley steal with 1:00 remaining in the game for the last basket of his high school career. It was the third time Egekeze and his team had lost to Auburn in a sectional.
“They’re a good program, they’re always good,” Egekeze said. “They make you play faster, that’s been our Kryptonite the last couple years, handling that kind of pressure. I was just glad to be a part of history at our school. We would have liked to win this game and go farther, but it’s been a great experience and I won’t forget a lot of things.”