A talented Wheaton North squad proved Friday night that it could hang with the top teams like West Aurora.
What the 3-3 Falcons would like to do next is start knocking off some of the teams on its tough schedule rather than coming up short like they did in a 68-52 setback to the DVC-leading Blackhawks.
The score was tied at 12-12 after one quarter and West Aurora (7-1, 4-0) led just 30-26 at the half as the teams battled evenly through two quarters and a great battle of big men took place between the Falcon's 6-foot-11 Andrew Zelis and the Blackhawks' 6-7 Josh McAuley.
But as the Blackhawks have done for seemingly forever, defensive pressure in the third quarter turned the game in favor of the visitors, who created 9 Falcons turnovers while using a 23-13 quarter to take control of the game.
"I'm proud of how hard we played certainly, but we can play a lot better than that," Falcons coach Dave Brackmann said. "We're going to play a lot of great teams this year, and we've got to do more than just play hard."
Zelis had 10 points and 7 rebounds at the half, but West Aurora did a great job of limiting his chances in the second half. He managed just one field goal and two shots in the second half along with a pair of free throws to finish with a team-high 14 points.
On many occasions in the third quarter the hosts tried to feed their big man inside only to have West Aurora come away with a turnover and quick scores on the other end of the floor.
"We just got all over them and picked up our intensity," said Blackhawks guard Jontrell Walker, who led all scorers with 22 points after making 10 of 13 free throws. "We knew our offense would come from our defense."
West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman was impressed with how well the Falcons played, especially through the first two quarters.
"I thought they played pretty good," he said. "We just said, hey, let's start guarding them a little bit closer. The defense picked up a little for us."
Even while West Aurora was putting the clamps on Zelis, the Falcons battled hard before falling to 1-3 in the DVC. Matt Biegalski hit a pair of 3s on his way to 10 points, Jaylen Howze had 7 points in the third quarter alone, and Zelis ended the night with 12 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
"That's a very good team and I'm proud of my teammates for how hard we played," Zelis said. "We didn't play our best basketball, but we can definitely take away some positives from this game."
The first-place Blackhawks will head to the Pontiac tournament next week off another solid team effort. Walker led the way on offense but was one of four players to score in double figures. McAuley finished with 13 points and 4 blocked shots, while the Thomas brothers -- Spencer and Chandler -- also reached double figures against the Falcons.