ROCHELLE — Great friends were temporary foes Friday evening, when the Rochelle varsity boys basketball team and head coach Tim Thompson hosted Senior Night against the Kaneland Knights and former longtime RTHS basketball coach Russ Zick.
The regular season finale couldn’t have been more exciting for both squads, as the Hubs and Knights were scoring points faster than many fans could count. When the final buzzer sounded, though, Thompson’s Hubs emerged victorious over Zick’s Knights, winning 88-84 in an offensive shootout to enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak. Rochelle improved to 14-16.
“I’m not surprised by how the score turned out,” Thompson said. “I think we both wanted to play this game that way, and I think Russ should be excited about how his team will be entering the regional… It’s bittersweet because I love Russ and he’s one of my best friends. He’s been my coaching mentor and he’s a mentor in life.”
Rochelle led 21-18 after the first quarter before sophomore Garrett Burdin caught fire from 3-point range. Burdin made four 3-pointers in the quarter to extend Rochelle’s lead, and senior Johnny Beck added 10 of his team-best 24 points to help the Hubs enter the locker room leading 47-42. Burdin finished with a season-high 22 points and six 3-pointers made in the victory.
“I had a great warmup knocking down shots,” Burdin said. “My teammates were finding me during the game and I just got out on a heat check. I let the ball fly tonight. Our ability to move the ball has been the key, and we’re playing as a team. We’re bringing so much energy to the game, and knocking down shots is contagious.”
Kaneland battled back in the third quarter, as the Knights removed Beck from the game by drawing the senior’s fourth foul. While Burdin was automatic from the perimeter, Kaneland’s Bryce Ebert was even better, scoring 31 points through three quarters to help the Knights make it a 71-67 game in favor of Rochelle entering the fourth quarter.
Borrowing one of his mentor’s coaching philosophies, Thompson let Beck play for the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, and the senior led Rochelle with eight fourth-quarter points to help the Hubs close out their victory. Rochelle held Ebert to only two points in the fourth quarter as well.
“Johnny played with four fouls earlier this year, and he made it through the game without fouling out,” Thompson said. “It’s a philosophy I learned from Russ back in the day. You can sit your guys and then they get cold, or you can get them in and take your chances. Johnny’s our best player and he needs to be on the floor. We’re not nearly as successful without him.”
Beck and Burdin were Rochelle’s high scorers, but the Hubs spread the wealth around, as senior Kaleb Ackland totaled 16 points and juniors Landan Martin and Austin Brown combined for 18 points. Seniors Isaac Green and Noah Knight teamed up for eight points in the victory. The sixth-seeded Hubs will begin the IHSA Class 3A Freeport Regional on Monday at 7 p.m. with a quarterfinal matchup against the tenth-seeded Pretzels.