Auburn defense squeezes Huntley out of sectionals
By Matt Nestor
ALGONQUIN, Ill. – If there was any doubt about the statement the Auburn Knights were trying to make after outscoring Huntley 14-5 in the first quarter of their IHSA Class 4A sectional championship game, those doubts were erased in the second quarter.
The Knights followed up a great defensive first quarter with an even better second quarter, outscoring the Red Raiders 14-4, only allowing 9 points in the first half on the way to a 59-31 victory to move on to the super sectional round on the campus of Northern Illinois University Tuesday, March 15.
“The stuff we do drill-wise defensively is made for moments like this,” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said. “Very impressive job by us in the first half. I would not have expected us to get on them like that. I can’t be prouder of my guys.”
Some wondered if the stage, combined with a long road trip, would be too much for Auburn to handle. But senior center Tavious Ford said he and his teammates were ready to go from the start.
“We’re a very good defensive team,” Ford said. “Faced with the pressures of the last game, trying to go all the way down state, it just brought out the best in us. We had to perform and get at it early.”
To go with the defense, senior Anthony Strickland continued his torrid playoff run, hitting five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 17 points.
“Strickland looked like his old self,” Ott said of the hot-shooting senior.
The Auburn starters combined for 52 of the 59 points, shooting 57 percent between the five starts. Fred Van Vleet scored 15 points and LaMark Foote added 10.
“I was feeling very confident, but I was pretty hyped about the game,” Strickland said. “It was a big game. But even though it’s the sectional, and it’s a big game, we still have to execute our plays.”
The reason for the great shooting night was a mature, patient performance out of the Auburn offense.
It was obvious from the jump that Huntley wanted to slow the ball down. But instead of forcing shots at the rim, the Knights ran their offense until they had an open look.
“Excellent patience until we got the shots we wanted,” Ott said. “We were very disciplined on the offensive end running our motion offense. We waited for good shots. To get those looks and to finish them makes for a long night for the other team.”
The combined efforts were a perfect storm for Auburn on the perfect night. And in the end, Auburn had its first sectional title since 1979.
“It feels real good to be sectional champs,” Ford said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. Tonight is the night where we celebrate. Tomorrow it’s back to business.”
Auburn will play Tuesday at NIU against Glenbard East, 80-62 winners over Aurora East in their sectional. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:10 p.m.
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