Naperville North did an excellent job executing coach Jeff Powers' key against West Aurora -- rebound that basketball.
The Huskies won the board battle 33 to 22 including a whopping 18-6 margin on the offensive glass. Converting them to points was another story. West Aurora, flashing defense and hitting free throws down the stretch, beat the defending DuPage Valley Conference champions 68-56 Saturday in Naperville.
West Aurora (11-2, 5-0) kept pace with Glenbard East for the DVC lead as Naperville North fell to 11-5, 3-2.
"Our 'M.O.' has really been playing sort of a weak first half and then coming back and playing strong in the second half," said West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman. "At Pontiac I thought we got over that, we started putting four quarters together. I sort of thought we put four together tonight. It may not seem like it, but Naperville North's got a good ballclub."
Jontrel Walker and Josh McAuley, with help from Jayquan Lee, made 15 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter. After trailing Naperville North 46-44 through three quarters West outscored the Huskies 24-10.
"We take pride in free throws -- I think everybody does. We might not make every one, but we did a good job of consistently making them," said Walker, whose 22 points led all scorers. McAuley scored 17 points with 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots; Lee added 11 points.
West Aurora went out to a 22-15 lead in the second quarter, but Naperville North's Brendan Herbstritt came off the bench hot with consecutive 3s to catch up, and then a putback that trimmed West Aurora's halftime lead to 30-25.
The third quarter was a dogfight, each team extending its defense into a full court zone press. Six Huskies grabbed offensive boards in the quarter to keep their team in position.
After Jelanie McClain Jr. tied the game 43-43 on a pair of free throws, Herbstritt canned another 3 from the top of the key, and Naperville North led 46-44 going into the fourth quarter.
"I thought we were going to take it away but we came up short," said Herbstritt, who joined hustling senior Derek Westman with a team-high 13 points. Westman led the Huskies with 8 rebounds while Rafee Mahmud had 7 boards and Anthony Rehayem had 5 of 6 on the offensive end.
"It's about rebounding, but it's also about finishing," Herbstritt said. "We got a lot of boards, got a lot of offensive rebounds, but we didn't finish. And they were able to take the ball in transition and score a lot of layups and a lot of jump shots."
One of them, a 3 by Walker following great offensive ball rotation, kicked off the fourth quarter to reclaim the lead for West Aurora. It also began a 9-2 run, and when McAuley converted a three-point play off his own putback for a 56-51 lead with 2:41 left, the good-sized crowd started to sense a Blackhawks victory approaching.
West Aurora bumped it up to 64-51 on a Walker shot in the lane and 6 straight free throws.
"We knew we had to get it (the lead) back," McAuley said. "We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. We try to go out there and play, and it works."