by Mike Slodki
Howâ€™s that for an opener?
Marking the first game of the coach Brian Johnson era, the Kaneland Knights boys basketball team took roughly a quarter to find its footing before captializing on fast breaks and high-percentage shots.
The resulting offensive party lead to an 82-53 win over Aurora Christian at the opening contest of the historic Leland G. Strombom Holiday Tournament at Sycamore High School on Nov. 24.
Following that contest, the Knights lost to Hampshire in overtime, 54-49 on Friday, and beat host Sycamore in the third-place game, 58-56.
On Tuesday, Kaneland improved to 3-1 (1-1 Western Sun Conference) with a 61-52 win vs. Glenbard South.
Center Dave Dudzinski paced the opening-night effort with 26 points. The night for the Holy Cross-signee included a three-pointer and 5-for-7 from the foul line.
â€œBoth teams were kind of butting heads for awhile, and once we settled down and found our stride, everything just seemed to start clicking for us,â€ Dudzinski said.
Teammates Chaon Denlinger and Ryley Bailey added 11 points each. Donovan Williams added 10 for more scoring balance.
The Knights were 8-for-13 from the line, as well.
A Bailey bucket gave the Knights a 12-10 lead with 1:29 to go before AC tied it with 49 seconds left. Williams converted on a field from Bailey with :35 left for a 14-12 lead, and then hit a trey with seven seconds remaining in the frame before Aurora Christian nailed a three at the buzzer, thanks to Ryan Suttle, to make the score 17-15.
With 6:10 left in the second quarter, a Nick Marema three-pointer put the Eagles up 23-17 and completed an 11-0 run.
Kaneland then went on an absolute tear with a 14-0 run, capped by Dudzinskiâ€™s basket with 2:31 remaining in the half for a 31-23 lead.
Taylor Andrews hit a shot with 1:04 to go for a 37-28 lead, the Knightsâ€™ biggest up to that point ,and KHS went up 39-32 at the break.
Kaneland the scored the first five baskets of the third quarter thanks to Denlinger, Bailey and Dudzinski, for a 49-32 lead with 5:41 left in the frame.
With Tyler Callaghanâ€™s basket with 1:01 left in the third, the Knights took their biggest lead of the game at 62-41, which is how the quarter ended. The biggest lead for the game was 29 at the end of the contest.
â€œOnce we kind of spread out the floor, we were able to get better looks,â€ Johnson said. â€œIt helps to have a 6-foot-9 kid in there to create stuff, but the kids were real smart with their shot selection.â€
Against the Whip-purs, Denlinger had 21 points, while Dudzinski had 14 and Bailey had 10. The game was tied after regulation at 41.
Battling the Spartans, Dudzinski had a game-high 16 points, and the Knights were a helpful 17-for-22 from the foul line.
Against GS, Dudzinski and Denlinger had 20 points each, and parlayed a 35-20 halftime lead into a win.
Soph action had the Knights win their own tournament with a 57-55 OT win over Sycamore on Nov. 25.
Friday sees Kaneland host DeKalb at 7 p.m.
Photo: Knight Sean Paulick takes to the air during Kanelandâ€™s 58-56 win over rival Sycamore in the Strombom tourney on Saturday evening. Photo by Ben Draper