By Matt Nestor
The Auburn Knights had a daunting task heading into a non-conference match-up Saturday night, Jan. 16. The top-ranked Waukegan Bulldogs came into Rockford, led by University of Illinois-bound Jereme Richmond.
The Knights were not intimidated, and, in fact, led for most of the game. But Richmond proved to be too good at the end, and helped guide Waukegan to a 73-66 win over Auburn.
“I thought they gave tremendous effort and really raised our play to a level to give ourselves a chance to win and lead that game most of the way,” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said of his team’s effort in the game. “I don’t know what more you can say about guys that came in here expected to lose and gave themselves a chance to win. They took pride in their home floor and played like kids that had pride in themselves and believe in what they do.”
Waukegan came out strong in the first quarter, overcoming an early Auburn barrage to take a 23-18 lead at the end of the quarter. But J.D. Danforth, Auburn’s leading scorer, did his best to keep things close, scoring 12 of the Knights’ 18 points.
“He couldn’t miss,” Ott said of Danforth. “He got a lot of shots where he was confident, poised, and in rhythm shots.”
In the second quarter, Danforth continued his charge, adding 11 more points, and his teammates chipped in. More impressively, a zone defense Auburn rarely uses held Waukegan to 10 points in the quarter and allowed Auburn to go into the half with a 39-33 lead.
“We played zone instead of man against them knowing they can shoot the ball,” Ott said. “But we were trying to give ourselves a chance not to get killed on the inside. Kids rose to the occasion. We played something that we work on a lot but almost never show in a game.”
Things tightened in the third quarter, as Waukegan schemed to slow down the red-hot Danforth. After he picked up an early bucket, he did not score for the rest of the game, finishing with 25 points, 23 in the first half.
“He was having a great first half, so at halftime, we had to make some defensive adjustments,” Richmond said of the Bulldogs’ effort to stop Danforth. “I feel like coach did a good job of shutting him down in the second half.”
Sophomore Fred Van Vleet did his best to keep Auburn close in the fourth quarter, scoring 9 of his 11 points in the quarter. But Quan Connor knocked down two of his five 3-pointers for Waukegan and, despite some late chances for Auburn, Waukegan was able to hold on for the win.
Ott said they did not expect to shut down the highly-rated Richmond, but he said the other Waukegan players did a good job of stepping up and supporting their star player.
“We traded punches with them for the whole game though, and I am proud of that,” he said. “Everybody in that lineup can shoot, and everybody can score. So we knew we couldn’t play a pack-it-in zone, which is why we were flying around and covering everything.”
Richmond said Waukegan came away very impressed by the Knights and was not surprised they kept things close. He thought in the end, their speed and pressure were the difference in the game.
“I think we were evenly matched as far as size goes,” he said. “I think that our speed and strength overpowered them over time. They had a good first half, and I feel like we sustained their run and pulled the game out.”
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From the Jan. 20-26, 2010 issue