KANKAKEE — When Kankakee managed to go 4-0 during one of its toughest four-game stretches in recent history last week, the Kays knew they would be in another blood bath with Southland Athletic Conference rival Rich Township on Tuesday.
The downhill attack of the Raptors didn’t have much affect on the Kays early on, as Kankakee led for a majority of the first half, but they did in the second half, as the Kays had to crawl back from being down 59-57 with 30 seconds left to force overtime, when they eventually went on to win 66-63 to improve to 7-0 and 6-0 and remain atop the conference.
“There is a direct correlation between execution and success,” said Kays coach Chris Pickett. “So, those couple of plays where we did what we needed to do, we were able to get stops, and the game came down to getting stops at the right time.”
The drama started with the Kays’ only returning starter from last season, Rashard Harris, headed to the free-throw line with less than 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Although the Kays were abysmal at the line all night, shooting just 12 for 24 from the stripe, Harris stepped up for his squad and made both of his attempts when the Kays needed it most to help tie the game at 59.
After sinking both free throws, Harris then went on to prevent Rich Township’s chance to win it in regulation with a huge block, giving Kankakee its chance to escape in overtime.
“We work on free throws at practice, so I was ready to make those big shots at the stripe,” Harris said. “All I had on my mind was making both free throws so we could have a chance in overtime.”
Going into an extra frame was all the Kays needed. Kankakee made the adjustment to Rich Township’s zone, which allowed two early backdoor layups to Willie Strickland, who scored 6 of his 17 points in overtime and gave the Kays a 65-61 lead with less than two minutes of play left. It helped Kankakee regain control and play at its pace for the final minute and a half to complete the comeback.
“I think the momentum of actually getting to overtime knowing how funky we played — we didn’t shoot free throws well, and we didn’t defend well, and yet we were in still in the game,” Pickett said. “And I think that the confidence knowing that we were right there boosted us.”
If it wasn’t for Harris leading the charge during the game, Kankakee more than likely wouldn’t still be undefeated. He recorded a double-double with a team-high 25-point performance one day removed from sitting out the first half of Monday’s win against Crete-Monee.
“He came to play and made up for his suspension yesterday,” Pickett said. “He came out and played well tonight, and whenever we needed a basket, he asserted himself, and that is what we look for in our seniors.”
Kankakee will have the rest of the week off to regroup before its next Southland Athletic Conference matchup against Thornridge at 7 p.m. Monday.