By Matt Nestor
After an early 10-point win over Boylan in the NIC-10 conference-opener, some thought the Knights were able to take advantage of a tired Boylan team that had players coming off a state championship run in football.
As Boylan stretched their lead to 10 points in the third quarter, it was not hard to argue with those who thought that could have been the case.
But the Knights buckled down on defense, and juniors Fred Van Vleet and LaMark Foote took over on offense as Auburn (14-4, 9-0) came back on the road to score a 76-72 win to stay undefeated in NIC-10 play.
“At first, I was a little shaky,” Foote said of the 41-31 deficit the Knights faced. “But then I knew we had to get it back together. We’ve been in this situation before where we have to come back, and we knew coming in here, it was going to be a battle.”
The game lived up to all the hype it was given coming into the first-place battle. After the Knights fell behind by 10, they raced back to take a 10-point lead of their own. But Boylan tied the game late and had chances to regain the lead before Auburn pulled away.
The Titans took control of the game early behind senior Armani Flannigan. He scored 8 first-quarter points on his way to 14 total.
“The biggest key was, were we going to be able to ratchet up the same defensive intensity that we did the first time against them?” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said. “There was a point early on where it looked like we might have some problems with them inside, but we seemed to fix it.”
Boylan point guard Chris Miller hit a couple of 3-point shots to start the third quarter as Boylan pushed a 3-point lead to 10. It was at that point Van Vleet and the Auburn defense helped the Knights get back in the game.
“I just tried to keep us going on offense,” Van Vleet, who hit nine straight shots at one point on the way to a team-high 24, said. “One thing we can always rely on is defense. Coach Ott preaches defense, and we drill it every day, and that’s what we relied on tonight.”
Foote, who also scored 22 points for Auburn, played a big hand in the Knights extending their lead late in the game. After Auburn did not hit a 3-point shot in the first half, Foote hit two straight in the second half as Auburn made its move.
“We went into the locker room down, and I thought I wasn’t doing enough to help my team win,” he said. “I had to step up because that’s what I’m on the team for, to play my role, which is to step up.”
In the back-and-forth contest, however, it was Boylan’s turn to make a move. After the Titans fell behind by 10, Miller again took the game over.
The senior hit three more 3-point shots, and several acrobatic layups, to will Boylan back into the game. Miller led all scorers with 25 points.
Boylan also got a late 3-pointer from Keenan Franklin, his second of the game, which pulled Boylan to within 2 points with just less than a minute left.
Then, an unsung hero for Auburn, bench player Tyree Turner, scored the last of his 8 points on a pass from Van Vleet to help seal the game. Turner, who is only 6-foot-1, also pulled down five big rebounds in the second half against the big Boylan front line.
“Tyree Turner gave us a huge lift, no question,” Ott said. “We felt that we weren’t getting enough out of our bigger players, and we needed to be a little more athletic there. We took a gamble, and it worked. In the big game, he really stepped up.”
The Knights showed no let-down the next night as well. Foote stayed hot, scoring 18 points, while Anthony Strickland scored 15 as the Knights topped Belvidere North 81-52.