By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Every time it appears as though the NIC-10 boys’ basketball race is looking clear, crazy things happen.
Belvidere looked poised to make a late-season run and try to defend their conference crown. Then, they got tripped up on the road against a solid Rockford East team.
Rockford Auburn was on a stretch where they looked like world beaters. Then, they needed eight hard-fought quarters to knock off two of the bottom three teams in the conference in Machesney Park Harlem and Freeport in the last week.
But despite Auburn’s struggles, they are now in first place alone. That is because Belvidere North overcame a big deficit to come back and knock off Boylan, putting a serious cramp in the Titans’ conference title hopes.
Boylan led by 15 in the third quarter, and entered the fourth quarter with a 7-point lead and in the bonus for free-throws. The Titans only shot three free throws in the fourth quarter, and nine of their 11 shots came from 3-point range. They were also out-rebounded, allowing the Blue Thunder to storm back.
“Our kids fought through being down 15 in the third quarter,” Belvidere North Head Coach Darren Sisk said. “It’s high school basketball, and we had a lot of seniors step up when it counted down the stretch.”
Kyle Hartfiel led the Blue Thunder with 16 points, while Hunter Blake chipped in 15. Brock Stull had 23 for Boylan.
Despite the differences in records and talent, this is the second time this season the Blue Thunder have given the Titans fits this season. Early in the season at Boylan, Belvidere North was a few clanked threes from knocking off the Titans on the road.
Belvidere North’s style is hard to prepare for, especially on the back-to-back nights in the conference. They like to speed up the game and take a lot of threes. The Titans have averaged more than 20 turnovers per game against Belvidere North.
That is not good news for Boylan, as they approach a season-ending game against Auburn for the conference title. Auburn also likes to play fast. They also caused a lot of Boylan turnovers the first time they played; however, they could not knock down shots.
Boylan does have a leg up on the conference race, even though they sit a game back of Auburn by virtue of their earlier win over Auburn. But these style issues with playing fast will be something Boylan needs to work on before that final showdown.
What could be potentially the most damaging is the regional seedings coming out soon. Auburn and Boylan are also in a fight over the top seed in the regional, which means avoiding a first-round playoff game with Rockton Hononegah.
Not only is Hononegah a team that can pull an upset and even win the regional, but it is also a tough, physical game before going on to potentially face the top seed in the regional final.
The Titans would seem to have the edge by virtue of their win over Auburn, but the Knights have the better conference record, no losses to Hononegah (something Boylan has) and a better overall record.
The Knights have proven to be the more consistent team this season and is a team hitting its stride. That could give them the top seed in the regional when it is announced. Now, they just need to make it to the final game unscathed, and this could be a special season.
Posted Feb. 11, 2014