By Matt Nestor
With just more than 6 minutes left in the second quarter of their Friday, Dec. 3, game against Boylan, Auburn’s Fred Van Vleet picked up his third foul with the Knights clinging to a lead.
“Second quarter, I can’t even tell you what I was feeling,” Van Vleet said. “I felt like I let my team down.”
Shortly afterward, LaMark Foote and Tavious Ford also picked up their third fouls for the Knights. With three starters on the bench for Auburn, Boylan made a run to take a lead.
With that, Auburn coach Bryan Ott took a risk and reinserted Van Vleet for the last 3 minutes of the half. And Van Vleet took the game over from that point, pulling Auburn back to a halftime lead before dominating the second half, finishing with 37 points in an 86-76 Auburn victory.
“We talked before the game about defending our house and the magnitude of the game with Boylan coming in here, knowing to drop one to them at home would make it really difficult to compete with them at the end of the season having to go to their place,” Ott said. “Given the stakes in the game, surviving that Boylan run, with all our foul trouble, was huge.”
The key for Auburn (5-1, 2-0) was the play inside. In last year’s match-ups, the size of Boylan’s front line proved to be too much to handle.
In this year’s first game, however, the Knights did a decent job of keeping the Titans off the offensive glass. They also held Boylan’s front line of Armani Flannigan and Jason Painter to 20 points, a defensive effort led by the undersized Javauntae Hicks.
“I was very proud of Hicks, who we made give up a bunch of size. He just played with a tremendous heart out there,” Ott said of the 6-foot guard’s play against players 6 inches taller Hicks. “We did compete inside with them. It was very different from a year ago inside.”
The other key for the Knights was the play of Anthony Strickland and Foote. Strickland scored 11 points in the first quarter on his way to 18, while Foote was 9-10 from the free-throw line in scoring 18.
“All my teammates stepped up big for us,” Van Vleet said. “They had to step up. Everybody had to step up together for us to be good.”
Boylan was led by Chris Miller, who scored 23 points despite playing football six days earlier. Adonis Brown chipped in 19.
Strickland poured in 24 points for Auburn the following night to lead the Knights to a 68-53 victory over Belvidere North to give them a perfect opening weekend in the conference.
Miller scored 27 for Boylan (4-2, 1-1) , who also got 15 points from Flannigan as the Titans bounced backed with a 77-46 win over Jefferson.
In other NIC-10 action:
→ The Guilford Vikings (5-4, 2-0) also opened up conference play perfect. Quavion Kimble scored 16 points to lead a balanced effort in a 74-67 victory over Harlem to open the weekend. The Vikings followed that up with a 56-47 win over Belvidere (4-2, 0-2).
→ East (4-2, 1-1) continued one of their best starts in recent years, topping Jefferson (2-4, 0-2) on the opening night of conference play 77-57. Steve McNease led four players in double figures with 16.
→ Hononegah (5-1, 1-1) withstood a late East run the following night to pick up their first conference win of the season, holding off the E-Rabs 53-52.
→ Freeport (3-2, 1-1) got 14 points from Luke Norman to shock Hononegah 62-56 on the opening night of conference play.
→ Harlem (5-1, 1-1) bounced back from their opening-night loss, getting 17 points from Tre Wagner to pick up a 57-49 win over the Pretzels.
→ The Belvidere North Blue Thunder (2-3, 1-1) got 14 points from Alex Gomez to top their crosstown rival Belvidere 50-46.
From the Dec. 8-14, 2010 issue