By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
For the Rockton Hononegah Indians, the first weekend of February was the most important of their season so far. Two wins in two big games, the second against Rockford Auburn, would vault the Indians back to the top of the conference race and likely give them a No. 1 seed in their IHSA regional over Auburn.
The weekend started off with an overtime shocker against Belvidere. The Indians fought back from a late deficit to force overtime, but the Bucs had just enough to top the Indians with a 54-53 win.
The loss was the third in the conference season at home for the Indians. Quinten Canty and Joe Byers both scored 13 points for Belvidere.
While the loss put a major dent into their conference hopes, the Indians could still lay claim to the top seed in the regional with another win over Auburn. But the Knights defended the home floor, dominating throughout in a 51-39 win.
The Indians got off to a hot start in the game, leading 9-2 early, but the Knights went on a 20-2 run, thanks to 15 first-quarter points from Fred Van Vleet, and never looked back from there.
“It’s big, but with Fred, it’s never a surprise,” Auburn senior LaMark Foote said of his teammate’s early barrage. “He comes through game after game. When he’s hot and he says give him the ball, you give him the ball and let him do his thing.”
Van Vleet kept cruising with 7 more points in the third quarter, finishing with 25, despite not scoring in the fourth quarter. The Knights entered the fourth quarter with a 9-point lead, but Carlos Hendrix scored the last 2 of his 13 to cut it to 7 early in the fourth.
Hononegah never came closer as Auburn locked things down on the defensive end, only allowing 7 fourth-quarter points, 5 of which came in the final minute.
“No matter what happens on offense, you still have to execute on defense,” Foote, who scored 4 of his 6 in the fourth quarter, said. “Going over (to Hononegah) the first time, we didn’t really execute on defense. We went in with a big head because we were undefeated. Ever since then, we have realized we can be beat on the defensive side.”
Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said defense was a major key for the Knights as they avenged their only conference loss. He said because of Hononegah’s ability to shoot, his defenders needed to keep a hand in their face all game long.
“You have to give Hononegah credit because they never stopped playing,” Ott said. “They are very dangerous with the three, and any time they had a truly open look, they knocked it down. The ones they missed were contested hard.”
While the win doesn’t officially wrap up the conference race for Auburn, at 9-1 and a three-game lead in the loss column over 8-4 Hononegah, the Knights certainly control their own destiny. And that is a product of the best defense in the conference.
“We’ve stepped up big time on the defensive side, and that’s been our offense,” Foote said. “That isn’t an individual thing, it is a team thing.”
From the Feb. 8-14, 2012, issue