By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Weather wrecked the Friday night (Jan. 20) slate of games in the NIC-10. Saturday, Jan. 21, Jaylin Marshall and the Rockford Auburn Knights destroyed a first-place tie in the conference.
Marshall, the senior big man for Auburn, capped off a 20-point night with two alley-oops from teammate Fred Van Vleet as Auburn turned an early deficit into a 78-59 win over Rockford Boylan Catholic to take sole control of first place.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been complacent,” Marshall said after shooting 9-for-10 on the night. “As I’ve become a senior, all the other bigs are gone, so I’ve had to step up. The last time we played Boylan, I didn’t get in too much, so I had to do it with maybe my last time playing them.”
The focus going into the game was on whether the Knights would be able to control the Boylan front line. Marshall, the tallest Auburn player, stands at 6 feet, 3 inches, while Boylan has three players who stand 6-foot-5 or better.
Marshall has been on the varsity team since he was a sophomore, but injuries have cost him most of the previous two seasons. But as his senior season has moved along, he has begun playing with much more confidence.
“I think that has been an evolving thing,” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said of Marshall’s play. “For all intents and purposes, this is his first time getting a lot of action. He was shaky at the start of the season, as you might expect, but he’s very athletic and a great kid. He’s so unselfish, and I’m glad a kid like that gets a 20-point night.”
The Knights, behind Marshall and Javauntae Hicks, were able to shut down the Boylan bigs on the offensive end, holding Ben Grygiel, Ben Eckburg and Dean Lowry to 10 points combined.
Tremel Rideout chipped in 8 points for Auburn to go with Marshall’s 20, part of a dominating offensive effort by the Knights down low. Van Vleet said that when the Knights get that production in the paint, it makes them hard to stop.
“That’s when we’re at our best, when we have low-post guys that work and play strong,” said Van Vleet, who hit four 3-point shots on his way to 18 points. “When you throw it in to a guy and the zone has to collapse, that opens up the threes. When you have someone that is going to finish, it’s a lot of fun.”
The game started slow for Auburn, as turnovers on their first three possessions helped Boylan race out to a 7-0 lead. The Knights were able to gain a 1-point lead by the end of the first quarter and were up 6 at the half.
In the third quarter, Auburn was able to break loose as Van Vleet and sophomore Phil Trammell combined for five 3s as Auburn outscored Boylan 28-13 in the quarter.
Elijah Smith added three straight 3s in the fourth to continue the barrage, and Boylan’s offense could not keep up. Despite 17 points from Brock Stull, the Titans only made four shots in the third quarter and a 6-for-18 night at the free-throw line helped keep Boylan out of the game.
“You know teams are going to make shots in their own gym, and you have to do a better job of withstanding it,” Boylan Head Coach Mike Winters said. “But our biggest disappointment was on the offensive end. We didn’t execute the game plan very well, and some of the credit goes to Auburn, but I didn’t think we stuck to the game plan.”
With the win, Auburn (6-1 NIC-10) now controls the conference race and has an inside track for the top seed at the regional. With this being their only match-up this season, Boylan (5-2) now has to hope for Auburn losses to win the conference, something that could be tough after that performance.
“Of course, we’d like to have a big guy, but I will say that we really like our group,” Ott said. “The five guys we start play very well together. Regardless of their lack of size, it’s amazing to me how often those guys are able to dictate what happens on the floor.”
Around the NIC-10:
• The young, up-and-coming Rockford Jefferson J-Hawks picked up their second statement win in as many weeks. Freshman Antoine Pittman scored 18 points to lead Jefferson, while senior LT Davis scored 17 as the J-Hawks improved to 3-4 in conference play with an 83-66 win over Rockford East. Senior Steve McNease continued his improved play, scoring 20 points for the E-Rabs, who fell into a tie with Jefferson at 3-4.
• Machesney Park Harlem is only 2-5 in conference play this year, but their two wins are big ones. After beating Boylan early in the season, the Huskies slewed another giant as Justin Van Wambeke’s 30 points helped Harlem defeat the Freeport Pretzels 82-77. Luke Norman led all scorers with 33 points, but it was not enough to keep Freeport from falling to 4-3 in the NIC-10.
• Carlos Hendrix has been a great distributor this season, but his 17 points led the way for Rockton Hononegah as they stayed one game behind Auburn at 5-2 with a 65-53 win over Rockford Guilford. A 17-2 third quarter for the Indians was the key in the win. Juwan Hubbard scored 22, and Marcus Hardison scored 17 for Guilford, which falls to 2-5 in conference play.
• The battle of Belvidere was not much of a war, as 10 Bucs players scored as they cruised to a 23-point lead after three quarters before holding on for a 70-59 win, tying them with Freeport at 4-3 in the conference. Belvidere North (1-6) was led by Jake Boxleitner, who led all scorers with 19 points.
From the Jan. 25-31, 2012, issue