HAMPSHIRE – Crystal Lake Central's Corban Murphy had seen it before, but perhaps not at that magnitude or in a bigger moment.
Point guard Brad Knoeppel was in the middle of everything for the Tigers in their winner-takes-first-place game with Hampshire. Whenever the Whip-Purs edged closer, Knoeppel hit another shot, picked up a steal or whipped a sharp pass for an assist.
“He stepped up big for us in the second half,” Murphy said. “Once he makes one, he just takes off. He gets that look in his eye.”
Knoeppel scored a career-high 24 points and handed out six assists as the Tigers defeated Hampshire, 66-56, in their Fox Valley Conference Fox Division boys basketball game Friday night. The victory puts Central (19-2 overall, 7-1 FVC Fox) in sole possession of first place in the division.
“It felt really good,” said Knoeppel, who hit 8 of 11 field goals, three for 3-pointers. “I feel like I've never shot like that before.”
Knoeppel was blazing in the third quarter. After the Whip-Purs (17-4, 6-2) pulled within 35-30 with 4:51 remaining in the third on Tyler Crater's 3. Twenty-one seconds later, Knoeppel sank his own 3. He then pulled up for a pair of 12-foot jumpers, whipped a one-hand bounce pass through traffic to Murphy for a fast-break layup, then nailed another 3.
By the end of the third, Central had a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.
“He really put us on his back in the third quarter,” Central coach Rich Czeslawski said. “He just decided he was going to get us a bucket.”
The Tigers won for the third time in eight days against a tough division opponent, the first two coming at Johnsburg and Woodstock.
“That's a three-game road trip against three really good teams with hostile environments,” Czeslawski said.
Central started the game with Panicko's 3 and never trailed. Murphy scored 15 points and Vanscoyoc added 11.
Hampshire, which lost the first meeting at Central, 65-33, but hung tougher this time. The Whips just had no answer for Knoeppel. Tyler Crater and Shane Hernandez scored 15 points each and Ryan Cork hit four 3s to finish with 14.
“They're good. We had a couple of runs, one at the end of the third that really hurt us,” Hampshire coach Bob Barnett said. “We'd get within five and then No. 15 [Knoeppel] would hit a 3. We knew he ran them, but we didn't expect that scoring from him.”
Central now has a one-game lead on Hampshire with four remaining FVC Fox games.
“We just have to treat every game like this one and hopefully win out,” Knoeppel said.