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Aurora Christian's Wes Solfe is fouled on his way to the basket by Kaneland's John Pruett during the third place game of the Plano Christmas Classic on Saturday, December 29, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

They may have been playing in the heart of the Illinois flatlands, but for four minutes on Saturday night, Kaneland’s basketball players found themselves with one very big hill to climb.

The Knights spotted Aurora Christian a 14-0 lead to open their third-place game in the 50th annual Plano Christmas Classic and it proved to be too much to overcome. They lost 54-46.

“What was it, 14-0?” Kaneland coach Brian Johnson would ask afterward. “Hard mountain to climb there, but we had a couple chances to get it to within five. Unfortunately, when a team puts it on you like that, it’s hard to fight back from that.”

The Knights turned the ball over on three straight trips before finally getting a shot off. They didn’t score until the 3:52 mark when reserve Tom VanBogaert broke along the baseline and took a feed from John Pruett for a layup.

Eagles’ senior forward Cory Windle, who would finish with a game-high 16 points, had just sank a three-pointer to complete the 14-point run that included a trey from Johnathan Harrell, two Ryan Suttle baskets, a layup from Haydn McNelis and a turnaround baseline jumper from Windle.

“That was a big difference for us,” said Aurora Christian coach Pat McNamara, whose team dug itself a hole the night before in its semifinal loss to Belvidere. “We knew we had to bring energy as much as you can for four quarters. We got them in a hole and we knew they’d fight back, which they did. Fortunately, we hung on and our guys played good defense down the stretch.”

Kaneland turned the ball over six times in the opening period and trailed 22-9. The Knights were down 36-24 at the break and 45-36 after three but could get no closer than within 45-38 and 47-40 early in the fourth.

The Knights had two possessions to get within five when it was 47-40 but couldn’t get a shot down.

“Four games in four days takes a toll, especially mentally,” said McNamara, who got 10 points each from Harrell and Suttle.

“They had to play the same number of games in the same number of days as us,” said Johnson, who got 15 points from Dan Miller and 11 from Matt Limbrunner.

“(The fast start by the Eagles) was a reflection of us coming out and not being ready to go. It took most of the first quarter and part of the second for us to wake up.”

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