Carlson’s last-second 3 gives Kaneland Plano title

Troyer Carlson pumped one fist in the air, turned toward the opposing student section and hopped down the court in euphoria.

Carlson, Kaneland’s senior guard, has enjoyed a decorated high school career across two sports that few can match. A two-time All-State quarterback, he threw for 90 career touchdowns, top 10 in state history, and threw for nearly 3,000 yards in his sophomore year alone. A four-year varsity player in both football and basketball, he was part of Kaneland’s basketball conference title last season.

This moment might have topped it all.

Carlson’s step-back 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left was the exclamation mark on his personal 9-0 run to end Saturday’s game.

It rallied top-seeded Kaneland to a thrilling 55-53 win over unseeded Plano in the championship of the 60th annual Plano Christmas Classic in front of a jam-packed Reaper Gym.

The game-winning shot was the only time Kaneland led all night. And it sent the Knights (13-3) to their fourth Classic title, first since 2009.

“It’s amazing, surreal,” Carlson said. “Coach put us in the best position to win the game and we finally got the energy. It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. I don’t know how we won the game, but we did it.”

Carlson and Brad Franck scored 17 points and tournament MVP Freddy Hassan had 15 points and seven rebounds for Kaneland. AJ Johnson and Isaiah Martinez each scored 12 points for Plano (8-8), which has never won its tournament and was playing in its first Classic final since 1980.

Kaneland, which trailed by as many as 11 (20-9) in the second quarter and 28-24 at halftime, twice tied it in the second half.

But the Knights trailed 53-46 with 2:40 left after a Johnson basket for Plano.

Carlson, though, followed a miss, then made a tough reverse layup over the 6-foot-10 Martinez. After a Plano offensive foul, another Carlson reverse layup with 48 seconds left closed the gap to 53-52.

Plano’s Davione Stamps missed a shot at the other end as the shot clock bled down, and in a mad scramble near halfcourt Kaneland was awarded a timeout with 10.7 seconds left.

It set the stage for Carlson.

Taking the ball 40 feet from the basket, he got a screen from Hassan, dribbled right, and popped back for the game-winner.

“We drew up a play, help side, Freddy told me he was setting a screen,” Carlson said. “I was going to do what I was going to do. I’m a leader. Freddy got me the ball, I shot it.”

Franck, who keyed Kaneland’s comeback with 11 of his 17 in the third quarter, could only shake his head at his fellow senior’s heroics.

“Oh my goodness, it was just surreal,” Franck said. “Everybody in the gym knew he was going to shoot it, I knew he was going to shoot it and then it went in.”

Plano, in its sixth Classic final – first in 43 years – had knocked off two-time defending champion Burlington Central in the second round, and 2022 finalist Marmion in the semifinals.

That improbable wave rolled right into Saturday against Kaneland, a team that had beaten Plano 79-68 on Dec. 15. Even as Kaneland surged in the second half, Plano answered.

Christ Keleba, recently returning from injury, scored all three of his baskets in the fourth quarter including a soaring putback to put the Reapers in position to close.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” Plano coach Kyle Kee said. “This team beat us pretty good a couple weeks ago. It just shows how far we have come. It’s been an unbelievable week.”

Kee has witnessed many a thrilling Classic final from the balcony of Reaper Gym in his 13 years as head coach, but never from the sidelines.

To do so, even watching Kaneland celebrate at center court, left him emotional.

“I told the kids I always go up there, been watching the championship game and I see it packed and I didn’t know if it would ever happen with us here – and honestly I didn’t think it would,” Kee said. “To see it, and then that last possession, that’s an all-timer there, heck of a shot by Carlson. Somebody has to lose these games. Broken hearted for my guys but I can’t be prouder.”

Kaneland, in joining Newark and Seneca as the only four-time Classic winners, did so by rallying from a halftime deficit for the second straight night.

“We have been there before – pretty much every game this week we were down early. Just find a way to win,” Franck said. “We just had to stay calm. Basketball is a game of runs, it ain’t over until it’s over. This is such a historic tournament. To be here right now is unbelievable.”

Streator 52, Marmion 37: Playing for the fourth time in as many days just 24 hours after losing in the semifinals, Streator was tested physically and mentally in Saturday’s third-place game against Marmion in the 60th annual Plano Christmas Classic.

Turning to the defense that has keyed its strong start this season, the Bulldogs limited the Cadets to just 12 points in the second half in a 52-37 victory.

“We just really challenged our guys at halftime,” Bulldogs coach Beau Doty said. “Our hallmark has been our defense really during this whole run since the third game of the season. We really didn’t think we were doing a great job in the half court. Where we’ve been beat at times has been in transition, but when we’ve been set we’ve been tough to beat.”

Marmion (7-9) only trailed 27-25 at halftime.

“We just had trouble scoring, putting the ball in the basket, but we gave everything we had,” Cadets coach Joe Piekarz said. “When you play in a third-place game those are sometimes the toughest ones to play in because you’re that close to a championship, especially with how narrow our game was last night.”

Streator (12-4) led 39-31 after three quarters. Christian Benning (22 points, 11 rebounds) had a layup, a putback and a great pass to Matt Williamson for an easy basket to open the fourth quarter and extend its lead to 45-31.

“When you’ve got (Benning), you’ve got a chance every single night,” Doty said. “And one of the things we talked about is our defense travels and it needs to travel every single time, wherever we go. If we have an off-shooting night we’re still able to have a chance. We shot 17 of 69 against Kaneland (on Friday) but we were still there. We had the same thing with East Peoria where we shot horrifically, but we kept them around 40 so our defense kept us in it.”

The Bulldogs have bought in to the defensive mindset.

“I think the kids are buying into that identity, which is nice to see,” Doty said. “When you see those things happen then when we do shoot well we’re going to win and when we don’t, we still are going to have a chance.”

Cade Peterson and Quinn Baker each had seven points and Logan Auckland knocked down a pair of 3-pointers for the Bulldogs.

“Day four of tournaments is about toughness,” Doty said. “It’s about doing the little things and digging deep and getting in a stance and boxing out and doing all the little things you try to rep on a daily basis. Those things become magnified on days like this.”

Evan Stumm led the Cadets with 10 points and Matthew Stewart added eight points.

“This team continues to grow and get better,” Piekarz said. “We had so many new faces to start this season so for them to get able to play in a third-place game says a lot about where we started.”

As productive as the new faces have been, no one was able to stop Benning. Simply trying to may have even hurt the Cadets.

“He’s tough; they’ve all tough,” Piekarz said,. “They wore us down and when you have to expend so much energy on defense that’s where sometimes it can be a struggle to score. I thought our kids battled and they battled and they’re tough and even though we didn’t win this game it wasn’t because they weren’t battling.”

It was that the battling from the Bulldogs produced more baskets.

“Streator is not the type of team you want to play on your fourth day because they’re physical and strong and you saw they wore us down,” Piekarz said. “They did a nice job of really establishing that physical part.”

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