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Downers Grove South senior center Robert Mara has the type of profile that gets NCAA Division III coaches excited. The 6-foot-8 Mara boasts plenty of athleticism and ability to run the floor. But because he's in his first year as a starter, he showcases improved skills virtually every time out and makes it fun for the coaches to project his ceiling.
With Todd Raridon, leader of top-ranked North Central College, among the D-III coaches in the house Friday night at Willowbrook, Mara stacked up 24 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks to pace the Mustangs to a 59-48 West Suburban Gold victory in Villa Park.
Mara scored 6 of Downers Grove South's 19 third-quarter points as the Mustangs (7-6, 4-1) turned up their pressure and transformed a 2-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
"We really picked up our defense," Mara said. "In the first half, we were kind of slow. Once we picked up our defense, we chose better shots. We weren't taking 20-footers. We were able to get layup after layup."
Willowbrook (6-8, 0-3) gave up several inches at each spot along the front line, but the Warriors built a 23-21 halftime lead with defenses that limited Mara's post touches and forced the Mustangs to shoot 3-pointers.
Downers Grove South canned just 1 of 12 3-pointers in the first half. Meanwhile, Willowbrook senior guards Josh Joiner (17 points, 4 assists, 4 steals) and Tiger Greene (15 points, 7 rebounds) created off the dribble to get all but four of the Warriors' first-half points.
But when the Mustangs' defense forced turnovers on Willowbrook's first two possessions of the third quarter, it turned the tide.
Cannon drilled a 3-pointer to give Downers Grove South the lead for good with six minutes left in the third quarter and the Mustangs kept rolling as the Warriors kept turning over the ball. "Our Achilles' heel this year has been the first three minutes of the third quarter," said Warriors coach Chris Perkins. "For some reason, we don't start the third quarter the same way we start the game."
Willowbrook never got closer than 10 points in the final 10 minutes.
"The game actually went exactly the way I was envisioning: Their quickness and guards against our height," said Mustangs coach Jay Baum. "We dominated inside. We played well on defense in the second half. Their two kids (Joiner and Greene) had 80 percent of (Willowbrook's) points in the first half. By the end, they had about 60 percent, which was one of our keys to the game."
Jordan Cannon added 15 points and contributed two highlight-reel passes in the final minutes for the Mustangs. Point guard Danny Spinuzza, who didn't practice all week and had a staple removed from his head at 1 p.m. Friday, contributed 4 assists off the bench.