STERLING – Leading 22-20 at the half Friday night against Kaneland, Sterling was in need of some breathing room.
The Golden Warriors got the separation they needed by outscoring the Knights 21-9 in the third quarter en route to a 57-41 NIB-12 crossover win.
“Games aren’t won in the first half, they’re won in the second half,” Sterling coach Ryan Vasquez said. “And we had senior leadership. These guys knew we didn’t play a perfect half, but we challenged them.”
A turnaround hook shot in the post from Tyler Willman and a 3 from Isaiah Ryan pushed Sterling’s lead into double digits at 40-27 late in the third quarter. Micah Kendrick scored 10 of his game-high 14 points in the third, including his second 3 of the quarter to up the advantage to 43-29.
“I was just staying aggressive,” Kendrick said. “I was getting those same looks in the first half and wasn’t finishing. I was just patient and played my game.”
“I don’t think that’s anything new for us,” Vasquez said. “We’ve been finishing out games ever since the New Year.”
Willman scored seven of his 11 points and grabbed five of his six rebounds after being challenged by his head coach. Loud communication was the key for the senior forward to get going down on the blocks.
“He knows how to get me going,” Willman said of Vasquez. “He was talking to me and trying to get under my skin, because that’s when I play better. I got fired up, and we all got fired up.”
Sterling (14-9, 5-2 NIB-12) assisted on all four of its first-quarter buckets to lead 9-6 after one, and couldn’t find much offensive success in the second quarter, either. The Golden Warriors were in the bonus with 7:38 to go in the first half, but hit just 3 of 6 shots from the foul line in the quarter.
Kaneland (9-15, 3-6) cut it to a one-possession game on four separate occasions in the second quarter, but never held a lead in the game. Trevor Carlson scored all eight of his points off the bench in the second quarter, and Rhett Espe’s layup with a second left in the half got the Knights close, but never ahead.
“I thought Sterling took us out of our rhythm that we weren’t able to establish all night,” Kaneland coach Joe Conroy said. “We fought hard, but Sterling turned up the pressure, and I wasn’t able to get them into a set in the second half.”
The Knights committed 12 turnovers in the first half and 17 for the game, and were outrebounded 31-16. A 32-percent shooting night didn’t help Kaneland’s cause, either. Espe had a team-high 10 points, while Kyle Stuart added eight. Blake Feiza was held to just seven points, largely due to foul trouble.
Kendrick also had six rebounds and two assists for Sterling. Alex Duran added 10 points and four boards, while Isaiah Ryan chipped in six points and recorded team highs with four assists and two steals. Aidan Shore finished with six points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks for the Warriors.
Sterling 57, Kaneland 41
Star of the game: Micah Kendrick, Sterling, 14 points (10 in 3rd quarter), 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Key performers: Tyler Willman, Sterling, 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks; Alek Duran, Sterling, 10 points, 4 rebounds; Rhett Espe, Kaneland, 10 points, 3 rebounds
Up next: Sterling at Rochelle, 6 p.m. Saturday