Geneva slows down Naperville Central in Chuck Dayton semifinals

As a high-level baseball player, Ryan Huskey recognizes how a single error can open the floodgates.

Similarly, the Geneva senior knows that any extra possession he can get for his team on the basketball court gives the Vikings another opportunity to score.

The 6-foot-5 senior gave the Vikings a huge boost, grabbing 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass, and Geneva held off a late rally to defeat Naperville Central 41-34 in Wednesday night's semifinal in the 92nd Annual Chuck Dayton Holiday Classic at DeKalb.

Geneva (9-4) advances to Thursday's championship game against Huntley at 7:30 p.m.

"I just try to earn my team as many possessions because late in the game it could come down to crucial possessions in a one-score or two-score game that could be the difference in the game," Huskey said. "I want to give my guys and extra shot or two."

The Vikings seemed to have the game in control, leading the low-scoring affair 36-24 after Max Jensen's baseline jumper with just 2:45 left to play.

Naperville Central (9-4) responded with a 10-1 run, pulling to within 37-34 with 54 seconds remaining after Mantas Zilys got a steal and a layup.

The Vikings held Zilys in check, limiting the standout scorer to just six points. They had less success in containing Jonah Hinton who tallied 10 of his 15 points in the second half.

"I felt like we didn't play great in the second half, but in spurts we did," Vikings coach Scott Hennig said. "I felt we did a real nice job on (Zilys). He didn't shoot it great and (Hinton) is a high-level player, a scholarship kid."

The Redhawks (9-4) were playing short-handed again, which they have done throughout the tournament with senior Brad Kuta and junior Pambos Nicoloudes out due to COVID-19 protocols. They outscored Geneva 24-20 in the second half, but trying to overcome a 19-4 deficit at the start proved to be too much.

"The kids battled and we told them that," Redhawks coach Pete Kramer said. "We said if you played like you did the fourth quarter the whole game we maybe could've come out of here successful."

Geneva held Naperville Central to just 10 points at the half, forced the Redhawks into 31.1% shooting (14-of-45) overall and outrebounded them 32-22.

"I'm proud of the guys," Hennig said. "They played hard and we've got a young group. We play a lot of juniors and we have two sophomores up so we have to keep getting better and go from there. Tomorrow we get a chance to win a championship. How many kids can say they get that chance?"

A chance that may doesn't exist if not for Huskey's efforts.

He even knocked down a pair of free throws with 13.4 seconds left to pretty much seal the game, extending Geneva's lead to 41-34 after getting a steal.

"I may not be the most fundamental basketball player but I'm definitely athletic enough and have that aggression," Huskey said. "I've learned to take that from baseball and apply it to the basketball court."

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