The way St. Francis drove and kicked the basketball out to open shooters or penetrated and dished off inside, it seemed the Spartans offense was the key against Aurora Christian.
St. Francis coach Bob Ward said the difference in first- and second-half defense told the tale in the Spartans' 73-49 Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division win Saturday in Wheaton.
Ward provided an abridged clinic on defending Aurora Christian's flex offense, but the bottom line was this: "When you're playing hard and then they're getting easy shots it kind of throws you for a loop a little bit," he said. "I didn't think that they had easy shots in the second half. I felt we did a better job of getting out on the shooter."
St. Francis (5-0, 2-0) led 39-34 after the first half, then allowed just 15 points the rest of the way.
Aurora Christian (3-3, 0-2) threw up 21 shots in the first quarter, made 7 of 9 second-quarter field-goal tries, and was limited to 4-of-13 shooting the entire second half.
"When we went into the locker room, we said, let's get together and just have high-pressure defense," said St. Francis guard Andrew Kimball, who made four 3-point baskets and scored a game-high 23 points, hitting 8 of 10 from the floor. "We came out and just pressured them hard and caused turnovers and only (allowed) them 15 points in the second half. That's what we were happy about."
A pivotal stretch occurred when it was still a single-digit game, St. Francis up 50-44 late in the third quarter.
The Spartans' 6-foot-4 Killian Brown, who came off the bench to make all 6 shot attempts and score 13 points, was fouled making a basket. A technical foul also was called against Aurora Christian, so after Brown converted the three-point play, Kimball hit the two technical free throws -- and Brown scored again on a drive.
Kimball closed the quarter on a 3-point swish for a 10-point microburst and 60-44 lead entering the fourth.
"That essentially was the ballgame," said Eagles assistant coach Dan Beebe. "It had culminated into a lot of different things, but it did stretch from that point on."
About that St. Francis offense: Ten Spartans scored, Jason Sullivan also off the bench for 8 points while starters Tim Zettinger, Matt Bonner and Kevin McShea each scored 6.
Coming back from a concussion, Johnathan Harrell led Aurora Christian with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Cory Windle scored 13 points.
"They recognized our shooters pretty quick," Windle said. "It was hard to get open, but we weren't really running our offense very well. In the beginning we were doing the same thing -- driving, kicking, getting open guys and they were hitting their threes. Then we weren't doing that. People were just driving the lane the whole time."