When Kaneland guard John Pruett went up under heavy pressure for a desperation 20-foot jump shot with his team trailing 31-30 and just a few seconds remaining in Friday nights conference opener against Morris, there was a good chance he might miss.
The host Knights had not converted one basket outside of 2 feet all night in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Division clash.
And he did miss. But teammate Tyler Carlson was all alone near the basket, nabbing the wild shot that barely hit the rim and flipping the ball in off the backboard as the buzzer sounded for a 32-31 victory.
The dramatic finish provided Kaneland (1-3, 1-0) its first win of the season and only its second lead in the entire defensive-dominated game, thanks to what Carlson called the first buzzer-beater of his basketball life.
I saw the shot go up and I was just in the right place at the right time, Carlson said. I was at the top of the key and once I saw him (Pruett) shoot it, I just went to the back side. It felt really good when it went in.
It was a tough blow for Morris (2-2, 0-1), which led most of the night behind a game-high 17 points from Ben Ortiz, who was a thorn in Kanelands side all night. But he gave the Knights the opportunity to win when he missed the front end of a one-and-bonus free throw attempt with 50 seconds left.
Hes the guy you want at the line, as young as we are, but Ortiz carried us offensively all night, Morris coach Joe Blumberg said of his 6-6 senior forward.
You have to credit the Carlson kid for playing through to the final buzzer, Blumberg said. We are a young team and I knew we would make mistakes, but road conference games usually come down to one box out, one missed shot or one extra charge.
The game was destined to come down to one of something, including one second left, which is when Carlson threw up his game-winner. Morris led most of the night, but the Redskins biggest lead came at 15-8 early in the second quarter on a Tanner Sampson layup off a pick-and-roll with Ortiz.
Kaneland relied on Pruett, who scored 8 of his 11 points in the first half, to keep the Knights in striking distance as Morris led 18-14 at halftime.
The game remained a four-point spread for Morris at 26-22 after three quarters, as the pattern of the Knights scoring only on baseline drives or power moves in the post, and the Redskins knocking down long jump shots continued to hold. Morris bagged five 3-pointers in the game, while Kaneland had none.
But Kaneland turned up the defensive pressure early in the final quarter, finally taking the lead at 27-26 on Dan Millers driving layup and free throw for a three-point play.
After Pruett sank one of two free throws, Ortiz tied the game at 28-28 with a jump shot in the lane while being fouled, but he missed the free throw.
Kaneland had to survive the final 2:30 of the game without center Matt Limbrunner, who provided a game-high 11 rebounds to go with 8 points, before fouling out when he steamrolled a Morris defender while posting up in the lane.
When Ortiz banged down a 3-pointer for a 31-28 lead with 1:10 remaining, Kaneland responded when Miller canned two free throws prior to Ortiz critical miss.
After Kaneland called timeout with 17.7 seconds left, the Knights set up a final play to isolate Pruett off a Carlson screen, but it broke down just well enough for Carlsons game-winner.
We didnt make an outside shot all night, but the last missed shot just happened to be a lucky one, Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. Ty (Carlson) just happened to crash the boards, got the ball and barely got it off in time.
We were very fortunate to come away with the win.
The teams dealt with similar futility from the floor, with the Knights converting just 13 of 34 shots for 38 percent, and Morris made 12 of 33 for 36 percent.
However, Kaneland enjoyed a 30-16 rebounding advantage, with 7 of Morris rebounds categorized as team rebounds corralled on the floor or after being tipped from one teammate to another.