Defense carries St. Francis past Kaneland
St. Francis boys basketball coach Bob Ward is realistic when it comes to the Spartans' limitations.
"We know we're not a 70-plus (point) potential scoring team," Ward said Wednesday night after the nightcap of the Class 3A IMSA regional with third-seeded Kaneland.
But St. Francis lived to play another day after its defense carried the squad past the Knights 43-32 in Aurora.
Kaneland had its campaign close at 16-12.
St. Francis (19-7), the second seed, ended the regional semifinal on a 14-1 run over the final three minutes and 52 seconds to erase the last of the Knights' second-half leads, 31-29 on a Matt Limbrunner 3-pointer.
It proved to be the Knights' only field goal of the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Tim Zeittinger slashed and burned his way for St. Francis to the tune of a season-high 21 points to lead all scorers.
"Playoff basketball comes down to defense," said Zeittinger, who converted 6 straight free throws in the waning minutes after forging the last tie of the game, 31-31, with 3:52 to play on a contested jumper in the paint. "That's what we have stressed the last couple of weeks. It works (for me offensively) when I slash."
Backcourt mate Andrew Kimball had a twisting layup in heavy traffic — his only bucket of the game for St. Francis — to give the Spartans the lead for good at 33-31 with 2:52 to play.
Kaneland could not buy a bucket over the last four-plus minutes, going 1-for-11 in the final eight minutes to have its season end.
Drew David split a pair of free throws to score the lone Kaneland point other than the Limbrunner downtown connection in the quarter.
"We try to hold teams to single digits in quarters," Zeittinger said.
The contest was an offensive struggle from the get-go.
It took both teams a quarter-plus to reach double digits, and St. Francis nursed a football-like score of 17-14 entering the halftime break.
The 3-point St. Francis lead was the largest either team enjoyed until the Spartans pulled away late in the game.
The third quarter did offer a more promising second half offensively as each team was effective in their half-court sets.
Dan Miller, who led Kaneland with 10 points, had back-to-back baskets for the Knights during the third quarter. Limbrunner had an inside score to give Kaneland a 26-25 lead after three quarters.
But the Kaneland season-long issue of scoring points reared its ugliness down the stretch.
"It's something we have struggled with all year," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "We had some shots that just didn't go in."
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