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Article updated: 12/27/2011 5:03 PM
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Notre Dame holds off Vernon Hills
 

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Notre Dame holds off Vernon Hills
 

It was a quadruple whammy for Matt McCarty's family.

The Vernon Hills boys basketball coach and his wife, along with their two children were wiped out over the holiday weekend by a nasty stomach flu.

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In fact, McCarty got so sick that he did the unthinkable: He decided not to coach in Tuesday's opener of the Wheeling Wildcat Hardwood Classic tournament.

"He didn't want to get our kids or anyone else at the tournament sick," said Vernon Hills assistant coach Colin Mason, who took over for McCarty. "So, he decided to stay home."

McCarty knew that his players would need to be at full strength and feeling their best to have a chance at knocking off Notre Dame, the defending tournament champion and one of the top-rated teams in the state of Illinois.

The inspired Cougars almost gave their coach the best kind of get-well present.

They were up at the end of the first quarter, cut a 12-point third quarter deficit to as few as 3 points in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the game in the final minute.

But ultimately, Vernon Hills couldn't match the size or depth of Notre Dame, which opened defense of its 2010 tournament crown with a 48-44 victory.

The Dons move to 10-2 while Vernon Hills falls to 5-5. Notre Dame will face Lake Park, a 52-42 winner over Deerfield, in today's 3:45 p.m. game while Vernon Hills will take on Deerfield in the 10:30 a.m. game.

"We had been working hard all week on Notre Dame and our coaches gave us a great scouting report on them," said Vernon Hills guard Stephen Curry, who finished with 11 points and was one of a couple of Vernon Hills players who put up shots in the final minute that just missed. "Coach Mason did a good job of stepping up for Coach McCarty today. He got us ready and we knew what we had to do and we started off pretty well.

"I think they (Notre Dame) just realized at halftime that they had a lot more size and depth than us and they were able to use that to their advantage in the second half."

Notre Dame made a big push in the third quarter by getting the ball inside to 6-foot-7 sophomore center Jon Johnson. He was held scoreless in the first half but exploded for 11 second-half points, 9 of which he scored in the third quarter as Notre Dame built double-digit leads.

"I didn't play very well defensively in the first half and my defense normally gets me going," said Johnson, whose 11 points were a team-high. "Once I got a block or two in the third quarter, I got a little energy and that led to a bigger second half for me on offense.

"We talked (at halftime) about going inside more, too."

Despite Johnson's work in the paint, Vernon Hills was able to cut its deficit to just 4 points at the end of the third quarter (38-34) thanks to some key plays by Trenton Fulton, who finished with 10 points.

The Cougars again trimmed down a deficit in the fourth quarter. They sliced an 8-point Notre Dame lead to just 3 points (47-44) when Darren Hoveydai (game-high 15 points) hit a 3-pointer with 37.3 seconds remaining.

"We knew they could play and they played hard today. They were determined," Notre Dame coach Tom Les said of Vernon Hills. "They made some shots and we didn't play as well defensively as we have in the past.

"We didn't shoot the ball particularly well either. But we had a huge advantage height-wise and I think we looked a little more for (Johnson) in the second half and that made a big difference."

Notre Dame also got 10 points out of junior guard Matt Mooney while Vernon Hills senior forward Jarrett Wood pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.

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