The rarest commodity in the modern game of basketball is the highly skilled center. So when you have one, why not take advantage of him?
That's the mindset Naperville Central took into its DuPage Valley Conference contest with visiting Wheaton Warrenville South on Friday night and Nick Czarnowski -- the Redhawks' 6-foot-9 junior center -- rose to the challenge with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks to pace a 60-35 victory.
"Nick's a big part of our team and we know we have to get him going," said Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer. "I think tonight was the most active he's been all season."
Czarnowski set the tone for the night in the game's first 40 seconds as he converted slick post feeds from Ryan Antony and Mike Blaszczyk into a pair of layups for a quick 4-0 lead; the Redhawks (5-3, 1-2) never trailed in the game.
"We knew we had the height and strength advantage, and on the first two possessions we wanted to establish that," Czarnowski said. "Then they started collapsing on me and I was able to find some guys going backdoor."
Indeed, the game turned into a showcase for team basketball as nine Redhawks scored, with Austin Pauga joining Czarnowski in double figures with 10 points, while guards Antony and Nicky Lopez did all the little things with a combined 10 points, 8 assists, 7 steals and 4 rebounds. Matt Auld and Matthew Bennett added a combined 15 points off the bench.
Naperville Central led 8-0 and 13-3 before the Tigers (0-4, 0-3), behind the shooting of Michael Kramer, crawled within 16-12 with a minute gone in the second quarter. WW South was hanging around at 28-19 with 1:20 left in the half when Naperville Central took control for good with a half-ending 7-0 run, capped by Blaszczyk's 3-pointer at the buzzer, to open a 35-19 advantage.
When the Redhawks started the second half with an 11-4 run, with four players scoring, the lead had suddenly doubled to 46-23. WW South, which would finish with only 12 field goals and shoot 28 percent from the floor on the night, was limited to 8 points in the third quarter, all by Matt Kienzle.
For the Tigers the game was another example of a young team still trying to find its way.
"We flat out got outcoached and outplayed," said WW South coach Bob Szorc. "Give all the credit to Naperville Central."
In the home locker room Kramer was starting to get the feeling that his veteran team, which had gotten off to a slower-than-expected start to the season, was beginning to round into shape.
"We like where we are," he said. "We've had an unbelievably tough schedule, we've beat a lot of good programs, and our three losses were to three really good basketball teams. We're just going to strive to get better."