by Mike Slodki
PLANO—All right, so the gift you receive this year won’t be as large as last year’s.
If you’re Kaneland boys basketball, there is still ample time to end the holiday festivities on a strong note.
On Tuesday night at the 48th annual Plano Christmas Classic off of Route 34, third-seeded Kaneland fell to sixth-seeded Princeton by a final of 52-51 in second-round action, which solidified that KHS won’t be repeating as Classic champions.
The Knights opened up tourney play with a convincing 66-33 win over Little Ten stalwart Hinckley-Big Rock—the second time Kaneland has vanquished H-BR this season.
KHS now sits at 7-3 after 10 contests, with a 3-0 mark in Northern Illinois Big XII conference play.
The Knights were set to suit up against Hall of Spring Valley, Ill., in a third-round matchup on Wednesday evening.
Against the Tigers, the Knights were led by Daniel Helm’s 22 points and Chaon Denlinger’s 16. Kaneland was perfect from the foul line, but only had four attempts.
An 18-7 lead over Princeton slipped to a 26-20 margin at the break. Kaneland still maintained a slim 39-35 lead before some fourth-quarter heroics went the Tigers’ way.
Princeton was set to face No. 2 Newark on Wednesday in its quest for its first Plano title since 1990.
In Monday’s win over the Royals, Kaneland had 10 members in the scoring column, paced by Denlinger’s 15 and Matt Spitzzeri’s 10. Denlinger also supplied three three-pointers.
“It’s nice to see other guys do well, too,” Denlinger said. “We kept putting it on so they couldn’t close the gap very much, it’s nice to see.”
A three by Denlinger, coupled with a basket by Tyler Callaghan, and two more baskets by Denlinger propelled Kaneland out to an early 11-0 lead with 1:57 to go in the first quarter. Helm’s basket with 52.1 to go gave KHS a 13-3 lead after one.
Holding onto a 12-point lead in the second quarter, the Knights saw a basket from Spitzzeri, an in-the-paint bucket from Drew David and two foul shots from Spittzeri to go into halftime up 27-9.
The third quarter was a torrid one for KHS, as they made nine straight shots in a period of 5:17, building up their lead to 49-18 by the end of the third.
A Kory Harner bucket with 5:40 to go gave KHS its biggest lead at 58-24.
“We just talked about taking care of the ball,” KHS coach Brian Johnson said. “We did a nice job of getting down the floor. We’ve been toying with a full-court press and see if that works out. We want to become stronger as a team this tournament.”
Kaneland will face either Forreston or Sandwich on Thursday, Dec. 30, at 5:30 p.m for fifth place, or at 2:30 p.m. for seventh place.