NILES - Before the Niles-Howland crosstown rivalry game at Veterans Gymnasium, the Red Dragons' Cameron Kane had no forewarning, no true inkling about the kind of night was he was about to have.
One of coach Ron Price's go-to guys off the bench, Kane warmed up well enough, but he was focused more on helping his team gain an edge over its rival.
"I started to feel like I was warming up pretty good," Kane said. "I tried to get warmed up real nice since it was our rival game against Howland. I tried to put myself in a zone."
The sophomore guard definitely found the zone early, amassing a career-high 28 points in a 63-57 win over the Tigers.
Kane torched Howland's defense in the first half, scoring 19 points with five shots from beyond the arc. It didn't matter if the 5-foot-8 guard was wide open or had a hand in his face - he just rose up and helped Niles (3-2, 2-2 All-American Conference, American) swing a seven-point deficit at the 2:41 mark in the first quarter to a 15-point advantage in less than 8 minutes.
"He's worked really, really hard to get where he's at, and he fits in perfect with the guards that we need to go with Chris (Parry) and Muhammed (Salaam)," Price said of Kane. "He can do some good things, and he obviously had the hot hand that first half to really keep us close, when we were struggling a little bit."
Kane wasn't the only Niles player to have a hot hand from 3-point land early, as the Red Dragons took advantage of Howland (1-4, 0-3 AAC, American) playing a zone in the first half. The Red Dragons drained eight of their nine 3s in the first half and didn't record a single field goal from inside the arc until a Salaam floater that gave Niles a 33-20 lead with 2:46 remaining in the half.
"We have the green light, and they were playing zone," Price said. "The 3-point shot is a part of our offense without question. It's a big part, but we do other things. Whatever the other team gives us and if it's zone, we're going to shoot the 3."
After Niles took a 35-20 lead at the 2:56 mark in the second, the Tigers clawed their way back into the game, as Niles got cold from beyond the arc and struggled to score. Howland closed the gap to three points at the end of the third quarter and managed to pull within two points when sophomore Reece Bogan, who paced the Tigers with 26 points, made the score 51-49.
Thanks to clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Red Dragons managed to pull away toward the end, and once again, it was Kane who led the way. The sophomore went 7 of 9 from the charity stripe over the last three-and-a-half minutes, while Parry, a senior, went 3 of 4.
"Coach Price really stresses free throws in practice," Kane said. "We shoot free throws a lot, so I try to simulate in practice as if it was a game. It helped me out (against Howland)."
For Howland coach Bill Bogan, he praised the Tigers' tenacity to make it a close game toward the end despite Niles shooting 42 free throws to Howland's 13.
"I'm really proud of my guys," Bogan said. "To go on the road and you get outshot from the free-throw line by 30 shots, that's a heck of an effort to give yourself a chance to win at the end."
As for Kane, this is the type of performance that could upgrade him from a bench player to a starter, but the sophomore isn't concerned with his role. He'll take whatever Price gives him.
"I really appreciate what coach (Price) has been doing," Kane said. "Right now, I'm just doing whatever I can do to contribute to the team."