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West Aurora came out in its same white home uniforms for the second half Tuesday night of its DuPage Valley Conference game with Naperville Central, but the Blackhawks looked like an entirely different team.
That same West Aurora squad that made 7 of 26 field goal attempts for 26.9 percent shooting in the first half canned 8 of 10 in the third quarter and 10 of 13 in the fourth for a blistering 78.2 percent mark in the second half.
The No. 2 Blackhawks needed that sizzling shooting to hold off a determined and improving Naperville Central team 57-52, maintaining their tie for the DVC lead.
"We got yelled at the whole halftime," West Aurora senior center Josh McAuley said. "He (coach Gordie Kerkman) said we weren't doing anything well. He said we just had to find the open spots and knock them down and that's what we tried to do in the second half."
That West Aurora (17-3, 8-1) did, starting with a perfect 6-for-6 to open the third quarter. Yet No. 11 Naperville Central (13-8, 6-3) was able to extend its lead from 4 points at halftime to 39-33 after three quarters by outscoring the Blackhawks 20-18 in the third capped by a Mike Blaszceyk 3 off a sidelines out-of-bounds play just before buzzer.
West Aurora picked up where it left off in the fourth. A tip-in by Chandler Thomas followed by back-to-back 3s from Jontrel Walker and Spencer Thomas tied the game at 41.
The Blackhawks took their first lead since midway through the second quarter at 44-42 on a step-back 3 from Walker with 4:21 to go.
A pair of free throws from Nicky Lopez tied the game at 44. Naperville Central finished 8 for 12 at the line to West Aurora's 1 for 2.
Buckets from McAuley and Matt Williams had West Aurora starting to pull away at 48-44 only to see a 3-pointer from Lopez bring the Redhawks within 1 point. The Blackhawks again pushed their lead to 52-47 before Ryan Antony was fouled shooting a 3 and made all 3 free throws with 1:27 to go.
West Aurora executed a perfect press break with all five Blackhawks touching the ball capped by a Spencer Thomas feed to McAuley down low for a 3-point play and a 55-50 lead with 1:06 left.
Trailing 55-52 after a drive through traffic from Antony with 38.2 seconds to go, Naperville Central got the ball back with a chance to tie after the Blackhawks were called for a charging foul while breaking the Redhawks' press.
Antony and Rob Suntken missed 3s, and the ball went out of bounds to West Aurora with 14 seconds to go.
Antony came up with a steal on the inbounds pass and quickly fed Lopez whose corner 3 didn't fall, and the ball was knocked out of bounds by West Aurora giving the Redhawks one last chance with 8.9 seconds left.
Blaszceyk, who hit three 3s in the game and had a team-high 13 points, got a good look from the top of the key. The ball rimmed off, Spencer Thomas grabbed the rebound and threw to the other end of the court to his brother Chandler whose lay-in dropped as the game ended.
"We knew it was a big win," McAuley said. "We knew we had to step up and play big the second half after a not-so-good second half."
McAuley and Walker (18 points, four 3s) scored all 15 of West Aurora's points in the first half. Their teammates chipped in 20 points in the second half.
"We had pretty good ball movement the second half," Kerkman said. "If you get good ball movement it sort of freezes the defense a little bit, passes are a little easier to make.
"Guys were jogging through on their cuts (on offense). I said, 'Guys, this is a championship game. If we lose this game they (the Redhawks) are right back in the hunt and we are pushing ourselves south.' They picked it up."
After making 5 of 8 from behind the arc in the first half, the Redhawks couldn't get the 3s to fall when they needed them the most missing four straight in the final 20 seconds that would have tied the game.
"They are all capable of making that shot," Redhawks coach Pete Kramer said. "Last play, wide open look, that's all we can ask for. I thought our execution all night long was pretty good. Defensively we had some breakdowns but they are a good basketball team."
McAuley was limping badly after the game after coming down wrong on his left ankle in the second quarter. He sat the final two minutes of the first half, got the ankle taped at halftime, then scored 11 points in the second half to finish off his 19-point, 10-rebound, 3-block night.
The 6-foot-7 McAuley did it while going against the Redhawks' 6-9 junior Nick Czarnowski who had his shot blocked twice by McAuley in one sequence but battled for 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"I like the competition playing against someone that is actually taller than me," McAuley said. "I think it brings out the best in me.
"I'm getting more confident in my shot as the season goes on so I'm trying to take it whenever I can."
Like its previous win over Naperville Central 63-51, the Blackhawks trailed at halftime Tuesday. This time it was 19-15 after the Redhawks scored the final 9 points of the second quarter.
It was a half of spurts. Naperville Central scored the game's first 7 points, West Aurora answered with a 15-3 surge only to see the 9-0 Redhawks response end the half.
Junior Taylor Zelinski didn't enter the game until late in the second quarter but gave the Redhawks a big lift with 5 points in the final 1:43.
Lopez finished with 12 points and Anthony 11 to join Blaszceyk and Czarnowski giving the Redhawks four players in double figures.
"I thought our effort was outstanding," Kramer said. "We let some guys loose, miscommunication in the zone but I thought we fought back and had our chances.
"I think we're getting better as a team. We are sharing the ball. We are playing hard. We are executing. We expected to come over here and get a 'W.' We're not happy about it. I thought we played good enough to win."
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH