HUNTLEY – Marty Manning knows there will be nights – like Saturday for instance – when the offense doesn't produce the way it normally does for his Huntley boys basketball team.
So coming off a loss when Manning challenged his team's toughness, the Red Raiders understood their grit defensively, on loose balls and in cleaning up missed shots would have to see them through.
That extra effort gave Huntley the edge in the fourth quarter when the Red Raiders had to overcome three quarters of offensive struggles to push past Dundee-Crown, 45-38, in Fox Valley Conference Valley Division play.
The victory kept the Red Raiders unbeaten in the Valley, but more importantly, sent a message to Manning, who questioned their energy level in a loss to Barrington when he felt the Raiders' toughness was lacking.
"We just wanted to come out tonight and tell [Manning], 'You know what, coach? You're wrong. We are the team you think we are,'" senior guard Bryce Only said. "We showed it tonight on the court.
"We played tough."
Huntley (11-6 overall, 5-0 Valley) relied on its defense to take charge in the fourth quarter when the Red Raiders couldn't manage to pull away despite D-C experiencing shooting struggles of its own.
After Chargers senior Dylan Kissack sparked D-C (11-5, 2-2) early offensively with nine first-half points, Huntley held him to two in the final two quarters. The defense also became infectious in forcing turnovers and turning the Chargers' miscues into points.
Of course, having 6-foot-7 junior Amanze Egekeze to produce points off rebounds and by using his size advantage also came in handy. Egekeze scored a team-high 12 points – five of which came in the fourth quarter when Huntley managed to hold off a late Chargers surge.
But in the end, it came down to toughness.
"We have a lot of tough guys when we want to be," Egekeze said. "We've had too many close games with (D-C) to know that even under a minute, even if you're up six, it means nothing – they're going to keep playing.
"The game's never over."
The Chargers' failure to score early in the fourth proved to be too much to overcome. Over the first 5 1/2 minutes, D-C managed only a basket, while Huntley reeled off 11 points. Two late 3-point field goals – including one by Brandon Rodriguez, who scored 14 points – got the Chargers back within six.
But Huntley responded and found ways to score when it mattered most, using its size advantage – especially down low – to make the difference.
"When you've got (a) 5-8 (player) boxing out 6-4, it's tough to do," D-C coach Lance Huber said. "They had a few long rebounds, and I thought we were in position and sometimes, it's hard to overcome that.
"We fought hard, but we've just got to find a way when we need a bucket to get one."