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Tigers put away Gators in 1st half

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CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central’s second-quarter performance was as beautiful and efficient to watch as it was devastating to Crystal Lake South.

The Tigers turned up the heat on defense, limited South to 2 of 13 shooting and owned the boards while building a 13-point halftime lead.

“We didn’t want them to come back,” Central guard Brad Knoeppel said. “We wanted to put them away right there.”

Central had the lead it needed at that point. The Gators could not cut the lead to single digits in the second half as the Tigers earned a 59-47 victory in a Fox Valley Conference crossover game Saturday at Central’s Fieldhouse.

The game culminated the District 155 rivals’ Hoops for Heroes Day, which started with the girls freshman teams Saturday morning. Players from both schools solicited pledges for free-throw shooting during the week, and the money raised will be given to military families.

Central (5-1) trailed 16-12 early in the second quarter when it went on a decisive 14-0 run. The Gators (2-4) did not score for 4:45, at which point the Tigers had a 26-16 lead.

“Our defense really gave our offense confidence,” Tigers coach Rich Czeslawski said. “We got easier looks because of our defense.”

South coach Matt LePage also had to pull forward Max Meitzler and guard Nick Geske, his leading scorers, for about half the quarter after both picked up their second fouls.

“They got loose in transition and we had a couple key guys out for about 4 minutes,” LePage said. “It seemed like they made everything and we couldn’t make anything. It was the perfect storm for them.”

Knoeppel and Corban Murphy led the Tigers with 18 points each, and 6-foot-7 center Kyle Fleck, in his second game back since having surgery on both knees to help his patellar tendinitis, added 12 points with seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

“I was just happy to be playing and working myself in,” said Fleck, who came off the bench. “It was good to be back on rivalry week. That was my goal.”

Czeslawski and Fleck talked after the surgery, and his comeback target date was Wednesday’s game against Prairie Ridge, which the Tigers won, 74-67.

D.J. Thomas, Murphy and Fleck hit 3-pointers in the second quarter as Central, down 11-8 after the first quarter, led 31-18 at halftime.

“I think Kyle’s only about 60 percent in shape and in movement, but it’s nice to have him back,” Czeslawski said.

The game was a homecoming of sorts for LePage, who spent the four previous years at Central as girls basketball coach. He still teaches some classes at Central, although he mainly teaches now at South.

“Our guys have so much respect for Matt, and they know him so well,” Czeslawski said. “I think they raised their game a little bit because of that.”

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