Kaneland, Plano advance to finals

Troyer Carlson personally experienced a frustrating end to an uncharacteristic half by his Kaneland team Friday.

When Streator senior Christian Benning forced contact from Carlson on a 3-point attempt as time expired in the half, a foul was called. Two free throws gave the Bulldogs a six-point halftime lead on the top-seeded Knights.

“I thought it was good defense. He’s a great player,” said Carlson, Kaneland’s senior guard. “I knew I had to do a little bit more.”

Carlson did, and then some.

Coming out of halftime like a firecracker, Carlson scored 12 of his team’s points during a stunning 18-0 run to start the third quarter. Carlson went on to pour in 27 points, powering Kaneland past fifth-seeded Streator 59-49 in the first semifinal of the 60th Annual Christmas Classic.

Kaneland (12-3) moves on to its first Classic final since winning the 2009 championship and will go for its fourth title at Plano at 8 p.m. Saturday.

That history alone burned hot with Carlson, a four-year varsity player, more than any first-half fouls.

“We are the No. 1 seed, we were down at halftime. We came to win this,” Carlson said. “I’m a four-year varsity player. I want to win a championship. I came out and did what I had to do.”

Freddy Hassan added 12 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots for Kaneland, which advances to face the Plano/Marmion winner for the title. Benning scored 25 points and Logan Aukland nine for Streator (11-4).

Carlson, a Wisconsin-Whitewater football recruit, wasted no time reversing his team’s mighty struggle of a four-point second quarter.

He knocked down three 3-pointers in the first 85 seconds of the third quarter, then converted a three-point play in transition for a 29-21 lead less than two minutes out of halftime. Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said his team has had issues with slow starts as a young group learns to play together. But Colombe knows who he can count on in big moments.

“Senior leader, he’s been in some big games before. We count on him for that,” Colombe said. “We have a lot of confidence in him, and he hit some big shots today.”

Hassan’s transition basket, the third on a Kaneland fast break out of halftime, ballooned the lead to 33-21. Carlson said it’s no secret how the Knights want to play.

“We’re at our best when we’re moving fast,” Carlson said. “When we’re going down the court, I don’t think anybody can stop us.”

Streator, in large part, prevented Kaneland from playing that way in the first half.

The Bulldogs forced 11 first-half turnovers and pulled down eight offensive rebounds to keep Kaneland out of transition. Benning, after missing his first eight shots, made five of his next six to pull Streator ahead 21-15 at half.

But missed opportunities – Streator shot 24.6% (17 for 69) from the field – prevented a wider margin before Kaneland flipped the switch.

“If we shot the ball halfway decent, we’re probably up 12 to 15 at halftime,” Streator coach Beau Doty said. “We felt like we guarded well, we kept them out of transition, and we rebounded despite losing [6-foot-7 Quinn] Baker to injury. He’s the only kid who could match Hassan.

“Kaneland has a lot of firepower, and we know that. They started to get in transition, and we can’t match that.”

Hassan, Kaneland’s springy 6-foot-6 junior, indeed was a terror defensively. Besides his six blocks, he altered several others, helping hold Benning to a 10-for-33 night.

“Freddy is really coming along,” Colombe said. “This is a guy that didn’t really play basketball as a freshman. He just started playing, and he’s really coming on. He’s so athletically gifted, he does affect shots and did a great job on the glass.”

Streator, after getting blitzed out of halftime to trail Kaneland 39-26 to the fourth quarter, didn’t go away. Benning’s 3-pointer with 5:18 left pulled the Bulldogs to within 41-38.

Carlson, though, came right back at the other end with a step-back 3-pointer and assisted Hassan and Parker Violett baskets to get the margin back to nine.

“We’ve been in this situation many times,” Carlson said. “We started the season slow, but we know what we have to do to get the job done.”

Doty, for his part, wasn’t surprised in the no quit from his kids.

“I had no doubt about the resolve of this team. It showed itself,” Doty said. “Yeah, this stings. But it’s also game 15.”

Plano 55, Marmion 52: Ronald Reagan had just won the presidential election when Plano last appeared in the championship game of its annual Christmas Classic.

For the first time in 43 years, the Reapers will be playing for the title at their own tournament after beating Marmion 55-52 in Friday night’s late semifinal in the 60th annual Plano Christmas Classic.

Plano (8-7) will face Kaneland (12-3) at 8 p.m. Saturday. The Knights defeated the Reapers 79-68 on Dec. 15 in a nonconference game in Maple Park.

The Reapers have never won their own tournament. The Knights have won it three times, but haven’t since 2009.

“We’re a confident group right now,” Reapers coach Kyle Kee said. “We beat a good Morris team. We beat Burlington Central and now Marmion. It’s been a pretty special road to get here unranked. I’m so happy for our guys.

“Everyone is talking about how 1980 was the last time we’ve been here. I don’t think they can grasp how long that is. It’s awesome for them. They’re going to remember this run win or lose tomorrow, so I’m blessed to be a part of it. I’m just pointing them in the right direction.”

Waleed Johnson’s 3-pointer and a free throw from Isaiah Martinez allowed the Reapers to close out the third quarter with a 9-2 run to take a 41-31 lead.

Marmion (7-8) clawed its way back, tying the game 47-47 with 3:53 remaining on a baseline layup from James Kennedy. Ta’ron McGowan followed with a 3-pointer for the Reapers, the junior getting a nice bounce off the back of the rim up high and down with 2:36 left for a 50-47 advantage.

Timely 3-pointers would prove key for the Reapers all night long.

After a nice move from Logan Hubble inside pulled the Cadets to within 52-50, Davione Stamps answered the other way, burying a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:15 remaining.

“I was looking at AJ (Johnson), because he’ll usually make that pass to me,” Stamps said. “I just got the ball, released it, and it looked good, and I hit it. It felt great. That was a great pass from AJ.”

Johnson was outstanding in leading the offense, avoiding the turnover column while dishing out four assists and leading the Reapers with 16 points.

“AJ was under control and getting to the free-throw line, and you can see the difference now that Christ (Keleba) is back,” Kee said. “The guys played their butts off. Marmion really gets after you with their half-court defense, and we finally started to trust our left hands a little bit.”

Stamps and McGowan each scored 11 points, while Keleba had seven points and 12 rebounds for the Reapers.

“My goal coming back (from injury) was to get back and help my team win,” Keleba said. “We want to keep on winning to win this tournament.”

Evan Stumm scored nine of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Cadets in the game. Hubble added eight points for the Cadets, who will play Streator for third place at 6:30 p.m. Last year, the Cadets were the tournament runner-up to Burlington Central.

It took the teams a while to get going at the start, with Keleba scoring on an inbounds play nearly two minutes into the first quarter for the game’s first points.

Plano took the lead at 9-6 after a 3-pointer from Johnson with 1:37 left in the first quarter. The Reapers would maintain the lead until the Cadets tied the game midway through the third quarter.

Marmion got a pair of 3-pointers from Stumm in the second quarter while limiting the Reapers to any lengthy scoring runs, pulling to within 23-21 after Jack Regan’s 3-pointer from the corner with a just under a minute left in the half.

Martinez’s fadeaway with 34 seconds left in the half provided the Reapers with a 25-21 advantage at the break.

Martinez had seven rebounds and five points.

– Chris Walker, Shaw Local

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