By Matt Nestor
It appeared early after the Auburn Knights opened up a 20-11 lead in the second quarter that they were going to cruise en route to wrapping up the NIC-10 championship.
But the Hononegah Indians would not go away quietly. After closing out the second quarter on a 10-2 run to pull within 1, the Indians opened up the third quarter with a basket to take a 1-point lead.
The Knights proceeded to outscore Hononegah 23-8 the remainder of the quarter, and went on to defeat the Indians 57-44 to finish off the conference title.
“It feels good,” Auburn’s senior guard Anthony Strickland said of clinching the conference crown. “We’ve worked so hard in practice. We had to keep our composure. This time of the season, we have to keep our composure and work hard to keep playing.”
Fred Van Vleet got Auburn off to a good start by scoring 9 of his team’s 13 points in the first quarter on his way to 22. But after continuing that roll into the second quarter, their defense started to break down.
Jake Hribal, who scored 10 points off the bench, and Coop Lewis, who scored 9, were able to work off back cuts and back screens for easy layups to help pull the Indians close by the half and into the lead to start the third.
But after the early third-quarter bucket, the Knights cleaned up their defense. That, paired with a hot hand by Strickland, who hit four 3-point shots for 12 points, allowed the Knights to cruise to a win.
“Defensively, I thought we did a better job on the ball and a better job recognizing what they were doing with their screens,” Knights Head Coach Bryan Ott said. “It’s a matter of cleaning up possessions, and it didn’t hurt that Strickland got hot.”
Ott also cited a great performance by senior Tavious Ford, who scored 7 points and did a great job defending the Hononegah big men and helping the Knights out-rebound the Indians, 32-21.
More than anything with the win, Van Vleet said he and his teammates were most pleased with the defensive effort with the IHSA tournament right around the corner.
“That is what I want to hang our hat on at the end of the day is that we are resilient,” he said. “We can always rely on defense when we are on a drought offensively. We can just build up stops and build up stops and eventually, those shots will start falling.”
The Knights came back the following evening with their next goal intact. A 68-59 win over Harlem kept Auburn undefeated in conference play with one game left.
LaMark Foote scored 27 points to help offset a 23-point effort by Harlem’s Michael Proscia in the win.
Hononegah, who is now a game behind Boylan for second place in the conference, kept a game behind by topping Jefferson 47-27 behind 17 points from Carlos Hendrix.
In other NIC-10 action:
• Armani Flannigan had a huge weekend for the Boylan Titans as they try to finish the season strong. First, a 25-point effort from Flannigan helped the Titans come from behind to top East 76-66. The senior poured in 35 more the following night in a 97-80 win over Guilford.
• East followed up another tough loss to Boylan with a 68-56 win over Belvidere North to wrap up fourth place. Javon Henderson led the E-Rabs with 20 points.
• Harlem topped Belvidere by a final of 65-55. Brenton Benedict scored 21 to lead the way for the Huskies.
• Belvidere picked up their second conference win in a 65-55 win over Freeport behind 21 points from Quinten Canty.
• Jefferson topped Guilford by a score of 61-59. Jared Mayes scored 25 points to lead the way for the J-Hawks.
• Freeport beat Belvidere North 61-58 in overtime. Luke Norman led four Pretzels in double figures with 16 to help offset the Blue Thunder’s Brandon Schwebke, who scored 25.
From the Feb. 23-March 1, 2011, issue