It didn't take long for Aurora Christian coach Pat McNamara to burn his first timeout Friday night in the semifinals of the 50th annual Plano Christmas Classic.
The Eagles fell into a 6-0 hole less than two minutes into the game, and they spent the rest of the night trying to climb out of it. That's not a recipe for success against any team, let alone No. 1 seed Belvidere.
The Bucs defeated the Eagles 68-53, snapping Aurora Christian's 5-game winning streak. Aurora Christian (8-5) turned the ball over 8 times in the first quarter to land in the third-place game at 7 p.m. Saturday against Kaneland (6-5).
"I thought Belvidere was a good team, I felt we just didn't play well," McNamara said. "Turnovers, weren't boxing out well on the defensive boards. You play a good team you have to execute. Our execution is getting better but leaves a lot to be desired."
Belvidere (9-2), which has lost only to Larkin and Rockford Guilford, returns all but one player from its 2011 Plano championship team. All five Buc starters average double figures, and forward Joe Byers (21 points, 10 rebounds), point guard Maurice Jackson (15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and shooting guard Kane Steger (12 points) all had big games Friday.
"That was a good ballgame for both teams," Bucs coach Aaron Pearson said. "We talked about boxing out and getting back on defense. Aurora Christian really pushes the ball well. We decided if we can limit them to one shot and stop their fastbreaks we'd be in the game. At the end we knew we could shoot the free throws well. But that's a good team out there and it was a good game to watch."
The Eagles caught a bad break early in the second quarter when Cory Windle was whistled for his third foul with 5:22 left. Tied 18-18 at the time, the Bucs pulled ahead 30-22 at halftime.
Aurora Christian committed 13 of its 19 turnovers in the first half.
"Those guys are a pretty good defensive team," McNamara said. "Some of those (turnovers) were unforced, some ill-advised passes. I told the team at halftime we were fortunate to be down 8 points."
Windle, who came into the game averaging 9 rebounds in the tournament and scored 31 points in a win over Mendota, was held to 12 points and no rebounds.
"He didn't get on the boards. He's probably been our best player in the tournament," McNamara said. "That did hurt us a little bit."
The Eagles made a couple runs during an entertaining second half that saw both benches hit with technical fouls. Trailing by 11 in the third quarter, the Eagles got within 53-48 on Windle's 3-pointer with 4:10 left in the game, then made it a 56-52 game on back-to-back transition layups from Ryan McQuade and Windle.
Steger answered with a 3 and a jumper. The Bucs did the rest of their damage at the free-throw line (19 for 23) to close the game on a 12-1 run and make the final score the biggest margin of the game.
"Guys were playing together and hitting shots," McNamara said. "I thought we cleaned it up a lot in the second half."
McQuade led the Eagles with 17 points plus 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Ryan Suttle had 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
McQuade also drew three more charges, upping his team-leading total to 27 -- the rest of the Eagles have combined for three.