With nearly every starter on both sides in heavy foul trouble, St. Edward came out on top Saturday night in what amounted to a game of last man standing over Aurora Christian.
The Green Wave used the foul line and a strong fourth quarter to extend its season-opening streak to 8-0 to top the host Eagles 53-46 and capture the Burney Wilkie Classic holiday tournament title in the process.
After an erratic, turnover-plagued first three quarters for both teams, St. Edward finally pushed through behind guard Joseph French and forward Nick Duffy, who each tallied a team-high 12 points.
Duffy had four points and four rebounds, while French, who sat most of the game with foul trouble, had two driving layups and four key free throws in the final frame. The Green Wave outscored Aurora Christian 20-8 at the line in the game.
"We have a deep team and had some guys come in who played really well," said St. Edward coach P.J. White, whose team went 4-0 in the tournament.
"Aurora Christian is a really good team, and they like to run the floor. We like to run the floor, too, but not with them," White said. "We changed our defense a little (to a zone) in the second half, and I think that slowed them down a little."
Aurora Christian coach Pat McNamara took notice of St. Edward's hustle and rebounding.
"I thought St. Ed's did a great job tonight," McNamara said. "They drove hard to the bucket and really worked hard on the boards, too.
"The first few games we played out here in this tournament, we did a great job on the boards, but St. Edward really went after the ball tonight."
Jonathan Harrell paced Aurora Christian with a game-high 19 points. Harrell tallied 10 points and teammate Zach Singer added 8, mostly on fast breaks, to lift the Eagles to a 26-23 halftime lead.
Both teams had trouble keeping possession of the ball in the first half. The Eagles committed 14 of their 20 turnovers in the game, and St. Edward had 10 of its 18.
When French hit two free throws and Danny Favela (8 points, 6 rebounds) scored a driving layup to open the third quarter, St. Edward enjoyed its first lead of the game at 27-26.
But French went to the bench quickly with his fourth foul and fellow guard Davontae Elam followed him with his fourth moments later.
The Eagles had foul concerns of their own, with Grant Schweisthal, who had a game-high 10 rebounds, and forward Wes Wolfe also sitting with four fouls.
Aurora Christian (3-1) held a slim 34-31 lead after Harrell scored on an offensive rebound to close the third quarter.
Duffy canned a jumper from the left side to open the final period and John Butzow pulled up at the top of the key for a 3-pointer to give the Green Wave a 36-34 lead it would never relinquish.
French re-entered the game in the fourth quarter and made a key driving layup for a 46-41 lead, drawing Schweisthal's fifth foul in the process.
After a Gino Domel steal, French made two more free throws to give the Green Wave a 48-41 lead with 1:47 left. After Harrell converted on a steal and drew a foul, the Eagles 6-3 guard was called for stepping over the line on his successful free throw attempt. Aurora Christian never threatened again in the final minute.
"When I was younger, I used to get in a lot of foul trouble, so I am used to playing in foul trouble," French said. "I'm a little aggressive on defense.
"What it really came down to tonight was making our free throws."
Duffy had a team-high 9 rebounds in helping the Green Wave neutralize the Eagles' strong game on the glass. Still, Aurora Christian had a 41-33 rebound edge in the game.
"I just tried to hit the glass hard, definitely more tonight than I have been because they have a strong rebounding team," Duffy said. "I just tried to go up strong with the ball."
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