By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
For three quarters and 30 seconds, the No. 1 seed in the IHSA Class 3A Marengo Regional, Rockford East, had outplayed one of the top teams in the state, the NIC-10 champion Rockford Auburn Knights.
The E-Rabs put in a basket to take a 54-52 lead and looked poised to pull off a major upset on Auburn’s senior night. From that point, the Knights closed 33-16 to avoid the upset and knock off East 85-70.
“You have to give East credit,” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said. “They really wanted it. They pushed the ball at us and didn’t just let us set up our press.”
The win puts Auburn one game closer to finish up an impressive two-year run. While Auburn has already wrapped up the conference title for the second straight year, the Knights are also on a run that could see them lose only one conference game in a two-year stretch.
Auburn starts five seniors, led by Fred Van Vleet. He is joined by LaMark Foote, Elijah Smith, Javauntae Hicks and Jaylin Marshall.
“It’s a special group of guys with a great floor leader,” Ott said. “It’s a great class, and they play with class, which is important to our program.”
People around the program, including Auburn graduates dating back to the 1960s, think this may be the most talented group of seniors the school has produced. And though the school has won back-to-back titles before, it is still something this team can hang its hat on.
“Back-to-back championships has happened in the history of our school, but it hasn’t happened since the ’60s or ’70s,” Ott said. “People are certainly giving us their best shot. And I hope that it’s making us better as they expose our flaws.”
And flaws were on display for the Knights against the E-Rabs. East was able to out-rebound the Knights 41-31. Auburn also uncharacteristically struggled on the defensive end, with many of those rebounds turning into easy baskets for East.
“We weren’t getting back,” Ott said. “I spent the entire halftime in the locker room yelling about the lack of effort after makes and misses alike. We didn’t deny anybody anything. I don’t know how many layups they did get, but it was too many.”
But the Auburn defense bounced back in the second half, and especially in the third quarter. The Knights caused 22 East turnovers, which kept things close before Auburn could pull away.
“Every game is different, and you have to earn it,” Ott said.
Around the NIC-10:
The Auburn regional will be a big task for all teams involved. But away from the spotlight, the Rockford Boylan Catholic Titans are becoming a team that will once again have to be reckoned with.
Boylan scored two big wins, sweeping the Belvidere schools with a 68-50 win over Belvidere North, and following that up the next night with a 78-50 win over Belvidere.
“We just have to keep getting better,” Boylan Head Coach Mike Winters said. “We’re a young team. We don’t have a tremendous amount of experience, and we need to make the most of the experience we do get out there.”
Winters made some changes to his starting lineup heading into the next-to-last weekend of the season. While senior Adonis Brown kept his starting spot, Winters went with four juniors around him, giving his team a new energy and hoping to send a message to some struggling seniors.
One of those seniors picked up the message loud and clear. Dean Lowry has shed the football fatigue and has rounded into basketball form, giving the Titans great energy, not to mention 14 points in the win over North.
“People see the kind of athlete he is and they expect miracles,” Winters said. “When you take a year off, literally don’t touch a basketball for a year and a half, it’s tough. It takes a while to come back. Hopefully, he’s hitting his stride at the right time, but if nothing else, he can lead by example with that kind of energy out there.”
From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue