HUNTLEY – Huntley welcomed back its best player, 6-foot-7 junior Amanze Egekeze, who seemed more at ease as the game progressed and made significant contributions.
But another junior, 6-4 forward Zach Gorney, provided even more of an impact.
Gorney hit 8 of 14 shots, including his first two of the second half to give Huntley a little gap against Crystal Lake South, and the Red Raiders rode that momentum to a 55-42 Fox Valley Conference Valley Division boys basketball victory Tuesday night.
“That felt really good,” said Gorney, who scored a career-best 23 points and hit two 3-pointers in the second half. “Everyone dreams of having one of those games. My teammates were hitting me in the right spot to score all night.”
Huntley (9-5 overall, 3-0 FVC Valley) had its lead, once at 11, cut to four by the end of the third quarter, but Gorney converted a three-point play and hit a 3-point basket to open the fourth quarter, and the Raiders led by at least six the rest of the way.
“I’ve been most impressed with Zach’s defense,” Huntley coach Marty Manning said. “I told our coaches I didn’t remember yelling at Zach about defense for about six games. He can shoot; this kind of game is always in him.”
The two-time defending FVC Valley champion Raiders played well without Egekeze, an NCAA Division I recruit who had surgery for patellar tendinitis in his right knee in late September. He was cleared by his orthopedic surgeon Monday and played about half of Tuesday’s game.
“He was better than I thought he’d be and contributed more than I thought he would,” Manning said. “I think the doctor gave [Egekeze] peace of mind yesterday when he told him there was nothing he could do to hurt it.”
Egekeze hit 4 of 10 field goals, grabbed four rebounds and finished with nine points.
“It was awesome, I really enjoyed it,” Egekeze said. “It’s been a long time coming. I think I’m about 65 percent. The doctor said I can’t do much harm to it, that’s a big relief. I can just go out and play freer. I felt really good.”
The Gators (5-8, 0-1) trailed, 24-23, at halftime before Huntley pushed the margin to 35-24. South fought back to within 36-32, but Gorney scored the first six points of the fourth quarter and Egekeze, showing he was becoming more comfortable, hit a pair of mid-range jumpers to make it 46-36.
“They made their open shots and we didn’t in that third-quarter stretch,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “[Gorney] hasn’t shown that kind of perimeter game in four tapes we had, but we didn’t get out on him enough and contest those shots. He did knock them down.”
Gators forward Austin Rogers led his team with 15 points.
Bryce Only scored 11 points and Jake Wagner added 10 for Huntley, which looks like a team ready to win its third consecutive division title.
“We thought we were a good team without Amanze,” Manning said. “We have a lot of work to do. Now we’ll have guys with different roles they have to get used to and playing different minutes.”