Crystal Lake South hangs on to beat Cary-Grove

Crystal Lake South appeared to be poised to seize control of the game against Cary-Grove late in the third quarter with a nine-point lead.

Gators coach Matt LePage almost expected it, having seen it in so many previous games.

“Getting to double digits and then really putting out foot down, and that didn’t happen tonight,” LePage said. “We were in a fight.”

C-G opened the fourth quarter with a run that cut the lead to one and South, for a change, was pushed to the limit before holding off the Trojans 47-43 in their Fox Valley Conference boys basketball game Friday night at Elroy Fitzgerald Gymnasium.

The win leaves the Gators (23-2, 14-0 FVC) unbeaten in the league and gives them their second 10-game winning streak in the season. South’s last single-digit FVC game was a 49-45 win at Hampshire on Jan. 10.

“As a coach, I like seeing how we’d react to that type of adversity in a possession game,” LePage said. “We didn’t handle the ball great at times in the last two minutes, but we did enough to win a game on Cary-Grove’s home court.”

C-G (12-14, 7-6) nearly beat the Gators back on Dec. 15 in a 73-67 overtime loss. The Trojans used a patient offense against South’s 1-3-1 zone defense, and utilized a defense in which they ran a double-team at guard AJ Demirov, who is averaging 20.5 points a game.

C-G limited Demirov to seven field-goal attempts. He finished with 17 points and three 3-pointers.

“It was like a playoff atmosphere, so having those reps in a game and coming out with a W is super important,” Gators forward Colton Hess said. “They’re a very patient team, they don’t make a lot of mistakes and turnovers and that’s what we do best on defense. It’s always fun playing them.”

South led 37-30 heading into the fourth quarter, but Dylan Dumele hit a 3 and Jake Hornok converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 39-38.

Hess, who scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds, hit two free throws and made a layup off Christian Rohde’s pass inside to make it 45-40 with 1:58 remaining.

Demirov made 1 of 2 free throws with 45 seconds remaining to make it 46-40, but Rohde missed on two free throws with 16 seconds to go.

Hornok hit a 3 from the left corner with 7.2 remaining and C-G called timeout. The Trojans got a steal on the inbound pass, but AJ Berndt missed and South rebounded. Demirov sealed the win with a free throw with 1.7 remaining.

“You have to try to limit the time (Demirov) has it,” Trojans coach Adam McCloud said. “There’s a reason why he’s the best player in our league. There’s not a lot of teams who can guard him man-to-man, and in a zone he’s just as lethal because now you lose track of him. Put a guy on him and try to get the ball out of his hands and a lot of teams have run that same action.”

McCloud felt the score not reaching the 50s played into C-G’s favor.

“We had chances, we were right there,” he said. “There’s a chance we’ll see them in regionals. Our guys can’t be scared of the moment, but we have to find a way to make a couple more plays. It’s two games against them where we made enough plays to get close, but not enough to win.”

Adam Bauer scored 13 to lead the Trojans and Hornok added 10. Ryan Elbert, who hit six 3s in the first meeting, missed his third game with an ankle injury.

“We shared the ball well,” Hornok said. “Demirov is a great player and that was our main focus on defense was to stop him. We did a good job, he caught fire a little in the second quarter and that hurt us.

“Getting the ball in the middle on offense was huge. Getting us in-and-out 3s and opening up that zone.”

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