GRAYSLAKE – The Fox Valley Conference Valley Division championship that Huntley clinched a week previous tasted a little sweeter Friday.
Because unlike the past two seasons, the Red Raiders can say they are the best team in the FVC, period.
Huntley played a solid second half and maintained a comfortable lead to put away Grayslake Central, 55-45, in an FVC crossover game between the Valley and Fox Division boys basketball champions.
“The last couple years we lost to Grayslake Central and Crystal Lake Central,” Huntley guard Blake Jacobs said. “This year, we thought of it as a conference championship and came to play, and we won it.”
Huntley (19-7) has won four consecutive games after dropping three in a row and heads to the Class 4A Belvidere North Regional as the top seed next week.
“Our seniors wanted to make [school] history,” said Raiders forward Zach Gorney, who led all players with a season-high 22 points. “We wanted to be our first class to [win this crossover]. For the seniors it’s a big deal.”
The FVC started the placement crossover games for basketball two years ago, and although the league doesn’t call it the conference championship, the players regard it as such.
Gorney hit 8 of 10 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and Amanze Egekeze, who has played on four FVC Valley champions, added 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“We don’t call it a championship game, but you’re playing a really good team because [Grayslake Central] won first place [in the FVC Fox], and when you beat a really good team in your last regular-season game, that means you’re playing well,” Raiders coach Marty Manning said.
Huntley led the Grayslake Central (15-11) at halftime, 22-16, and the Rams never got closer. Jacobs hit a pair of 3s in the third quarter and Egekeze and Gorney went to work inside to increase the lead.
“We were playing really good defense [in the first half],” Egekeze said. “Offensively, we weren’t being as aggressive. They were getting a lot of hand-check calls in the first half, but that was because they were attacking the rim. We felt like we had to do the same thing and once we started doing that, it was freeing up a lot of things.”
Huntley shot 54.1 percent from the field (20 of 37) and hit 8 of 10 free throws in the second half. Gorney scored 10 in the fourth quarter as Huntley led by as many as 14.
“This is a good test for us because Grayslake Central pressures you a lot,” Gorney said. “Coach [Manning] wanted to see how we handled the pressure and I think we did a good job.”
Charlie Anderson hit 6 of 9 field goals and led the Rams with 14 points, while Malcolm Reed hit 8 of 8 free throws and added 10 points.
“We did a nice job battling, but [Huntley] is a good team,” Rams coach Brian Moe said. “They run their sets well, they get the ball to their shooters and their kids don’t take bad shots. It seemed like every time they missed they got the rebound and every time we missed they got the rebound.”
Huntley outrebounded Grayslake Central, 26-17, for the game and 14-7 in the second half.