KANKAKEE — Thornwood showed up ready for battle in Kankakee on Tuesday, but even its best effort wasn’t enough to keep things close, as the Kays established an early lead and held it to the bitter end of a 71-60 win against the Thunderbirds.
The heavily-favored Kays never were in any real danger during the course of the Southland Athletic Conference win, but Thornwood refused to give in despite the unfavorable circumstances. A number of clutch shots and some interesting fouls called in their favor allowed the ‘Birds to hang around and even creep to within six points with just more than two minutes remaining in regulation.
That was as close as they would get, however, as Rashard Harris and the Kays executed brilliantly from the free-throw line in the waning moments of the contest to finally put Thornwood away.
“I think we experienced a little bit of rust since the holiday tournament — it’s been a week and a half since we last played — and coming in, I feared that may be an issue,” said Kays coach Chris Pickett. “I had scouted Thornwood a couple of times, and [tonight] was the best I’ve seen them play. When teams come in, they know we’re getting a little bit of recognition, and they’re giving us their best punch. We have to learn how to counter that. Even though we led from start to finish, this was not one of our better games of the season.”
The Kays’ most prominent struggles came on the glass as the Thunderbirds kept their slim hopes alive thanks in large part to a steady stream of second-chance points. The second half saw Kankakee improve on that front, thanks to a solid rebounding effort from Lavell McIntosh, but it’s unlikely the score would have remained so close if the team hadn’t waited until after halftime to execute down low.
“We would have been able to extend that first-half lead and would have been up by much more at halftime. They had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, and we had 10 rebounds total, but we were still winning,” Pickett said. “I got on them about that a little at halftime, and everyone made more of a concerted effort in the second half to get in there and rebound.
“[Thornwood] is an athletic team with a lot of length, and they play with energy,” he added. “I think we kind of expected them to just lay down for us, but no one in this conference is going to do that. We need to be able to rise to a challenge and match the energy of our opponents.”
Despite the hiccups along the way, the Kays still showed plenty of poise in the face of the unexpected adversity. They converted 12 of their 15 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter and vastly improved their performance on the glass when it mattered most.
Harris in particular was excellent down the stretch. He was a perfect 7 for 7 from the stripe in the fourth and picked up nine of his team-high 20 points in the final frame. Deylon Johnson also had an excellent game, especially in the first half, and finished with 16 points in the win.
“I feel good. We came out kind of rough but ended up picking it up in the second half. After having a talk in the locker room [at halftime], we really got it together,” Harris said. “We stopped giving up big 3-pointers, kept the turnovers down and started to rebound and came through in the end.”
The Kays will head south to St. Joseph-Ogden this weekend to play in the St. Joe-Ogden Shootout on Saturday.