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Senior Andrew Zelis and his Wheaton North boys basketball teammates were anxious to finally start their season Tuesday in Wheaton, but the first half didn't go so well offensively.
The Falcons trailed Hinsdale South by as many as 11 points. The 6-foot-11, Stetson University-bound Zelis, the Falcons' top returning scorer, had 2 points on just two shot attempts.
"That was a little frustrating," Zelis said. "We all had little jitters, the first game out on the home floor, but in the second half we slowed down, we found where we were offensively and that really helped us out."
By the second half the Falcons were in midseason mode. They followed 22 first-half points with a 23-point third quarter, including a 10-0 run to take the lead for good, and they defeated the Hornets 75-61 in Dave Brackmann's debut as varsity coach.
Zelis scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half by hitting all six shots and four free throws. He had 12 in the third quarter with three straight baskets during the run to open a 41-34 lead.
"We wanted to slow it down, get it in the post more and get into our offense and what we've been working on," Zelis said. "To score 53 (points) in the second half, that's just our intensity on offense. And our defense created half of those points."
Zelis, Matt Biegalski and Jaylen Howze finished in double figures, Biegalski scoring 18 and Howze 16. The Falcons made 19 of 21 free throws. The Falcons led 45-38 entering the fourth quarter and 54-40 with 6:04 left before the Hornets (1-3) closed to 60-56 with 3:14 to play.
In a 35-second frenzy, Howze threw a full-court inbounds pass to Biegalski for a layup, and Zelis and Biegalski added layups to put the game away.
"Everybody did really well, but (Zelis) kind of sparked us in that third quarter," Brackmann said. "In the first half we played a little jittery. We challenged the kids a little bit at halftime to do what we've been working on. Andrew came out really aggressive in that third quarter."
The Hornets' Marcel Phillips and Larry Motuzis each had 15 points, and Jerry Stoltz added 10.
Hinsdale South led 12-6 after one quarter and 19-8 two minutes into the second quarter. The momentum began to change after Biegalski had back-to-back 3s and a lay-in to cut the deficit to 3.
"We were playing well. We could have really extended the lead," first-year Hinsdale South coach Tanner Mitchell said. "We got real careless with the ball in the second half. We started to lose our defensive principles a little bit. They played well, but we helped them out, too."