Seniors Spencer Thomas and Matt Williams usually fill their roles with defense, rebounding and hustle plays for West Aurora.
On Saturday night, their roles were to fill the stat sheet with more points than usually anticipated when the Blackhawks faced St. Joseph in the 16th Annual National Guard High School Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
Thomas scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half and Williams provided a big early boost with 9 of his 10 points in the second quarter as the Blackhawks (16-3) produced a solid 56-47 victory over the Chargers (12-10).
"We have a lot of confidence in those two because they go hard every day," said West Aurora junior Jontrel Walker after he also scored 16 points and had 3 assists.
They also showed why West Aurora can be hard to stop even when 6-foot-7 Josh McAuley was limited to 4 points and 4 rebounds because of foul trouble.
Thomas and Williams combined to shoot 11-for-13 from the field and grab 9 rebounds in a matchup that featured two of the most successful coaches in IHSA history in all-time victory leader Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph with 904 and Gordie Kerkman of West Aurora with 751.
"I've told our kids this, I don't know if we have that many outstanding players," Kerkman said after his team's sixth win in seven tries since a 60-47 loss to Simeon in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament title game. "I don't think about (Walker and McAuley) in the same breath as (Simeon's Jabari) Parker or (Whitney Young's Jahlil) Okafor. But the more balance we get the better I feel."
The 6-2 Williams scored 7 straight points to break a 12-12 tie and his steal and drive capped an 11-2 tear that put the Blackhawks ahead for good at 23-14. Their fans recognized his contribution with a rousing ovation when he came out for a rest 2:04 before halftime.
"My teammates give me confidence," Williams said after hitting 4 of 5 shots from the field and grabbing 7 rebounds of his team's 26-18 advantage. "I usually come in with a lot of energy, box out and get rebounds. Scoring is a bonus for me."
Four offensive rebounds were also a big boost for the Blackhawks. Williams' last one kept alive a fourth-quarter possession that ate up 2:04 and set them up to make all 8 of their free throws in the last 1:31.
"(Matt) doesn't take many shots, but usually when he does he hits them," Kerkman said. "He's really strong for us off the bench, probably more defensively than offensively, but he's hit some big baskets for us in other games."
Thomas hit all 5 of his second-half shots to finish 7-for-8 from the field. His short jumper off Williams' baseline drive and feed put West Aurora up 41-26 with 2:39 left in the third.
"He helps us in so many different areas," Kerkman said of the team leader in stickers awarded for rebounds, steals, assists, deflections and charges taken.
"We played a good team game," Thomas said. "We've been playing with each other the past three or four years and with all of the practices we've had, we've gotten to this point."
The Chargers, who were missing ineligible starters Karriem Simmons and Paul Turner, rallied within 42-37 on an A.J. Patty (11 points, 8 rebounds) layup with 7:49 left. But West Aurora kept its composure and answered with a Walker drive and Thomas layup.
"They play a good man-to-man that's in your face but we stayed patient and confident," Walker said.
"We took it in and saw what everybody was doing," Thomas said. "We slowed it down and ran our offense like coach wants us to."