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Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton has stressed defense to his team, but he knows it's still a work in progress at this early stage of the season.
The Falcons' learning curve got a little less steep after a strong defensive effort in the third quarter led to a 63-57 win at Naperville North in the DuPage Valley Conference opener for both teams Tuesday.
Wheaton North (3-3, 1-0) forced the Huskies into 5 turnovers in the third quarter and did not allow them a made field goal until the 3:23 mark.
"We've been talking so much about defense, and it's coming, but we're not quite where we want to be yet," Eaton said. "We're getting there. At times we've shown some really good defensive effort."
The game was stopped with just 1:22 elapsed because of a water spill along the Wheaton North sideline, but when play resumed, Naperville North marched out to a 16-10 lead thanks to an 8-0 run to end the first quarter.
The Huskies maintained a healthy cushion in the second quarter, holding a 5-point lead on two occasions.
A steal and fastbreak layup by Wheaton North's Emari Jones gave the Falcons a 22-21 lead, but another Huskies' run to close out the half gave them a 30-27 halftime lead and the momentum going into the third quarter.
The Falcons took the momentum back for good to start the second half, outscoring the Huskies 23-10 in the third quarter.
A 14-3 run was sparked by three straight 3-pointers by Emmy Gryna, followed by another 3-point basket by Kelly Thornton that put Wheaton North up 41-33 with 3:05 left.
Kayla Sharples' 3-pointer near the top of the key provided Naperville North's only points during that Falcons' run.
"After halftime we just wanted to come out and make a push," Thornton said. "We knew the beginning of the third quarter was going to be a turning point in the game, so we wanted the momentum on our side."
The Huskies managed to narrow the gap late in the fourth quarter when Sharples took a pass inside the paint from Katie Cores and scored 2 of her game-high 24 points, cutting the Falcons' lead to 57-55 with 1:27 left.
However, Thornton, who led her team with 18 points, again shifted the momentum back to Wheaton North's side, connecting on a 3-pointer near the baseline with 1:05 left to put her team up 60-55.
"We knew coming in that (Wheaton North) is a very good team," Naperville North coach Jason Dycus said. "We knew what they were going to do, but it's one thing to know what they're going to do and it's another thing to stop it. But I was proud of the way we fought back. We didn't give in and we've got a lot of fight in us."