Aurora Christian coach Pat McNamara warned his team about Connor VanderBrug, then the Timothy Christian big man went out and showed the Eagles why their coach was so concerned.
VanderBrug matched his career high with 29 points to go with 13 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in the Trojans' 72-67 victory Wednesday night in Aurora.
"The big guy really hurt us," McNamara said. "He's really a great player. I told the guys he's probably the best big player we'll see this season, and he was."
The 6-foot-6 senior, a third-year varsity player who averaged 18 points a game last season, stepped outside to hit a pair of 3-pointers while doing most of his damage with a soft touch down low.
"Tonight was mostly the team passing," VanderBrug said. "We really connected well. A lot of guys were feeding me inside."
The Trojans built a 15-point lead in the third quarter before the Eagles spent the rest of the game chipping away, eventually getting as close as 2 points in the final minute.
Aurora Christian (3-2) pulled within 50-41 after three quarters after Wes Wolfe's back-to-back steals while Timothy Christian (3-2) tried to hold for the last shot. On the second steal Wolfe scored on a breakaway layup at the buzzer.
The Eagles still trailed 58-48 halfway trough the fourth before sophomore R.D. Lutze caught fire. Making his return to the lineup after missing the past two games after getting stitches in his lip, Lutze drained three 3-pointers in the final three minutes.
His first 3 cut the Trojans' lead to 62-55, his next made it 63-58 and the final one brought the Eagles within 69-67 with 34 seconds left. That shot followed a 3-point play from Johnathan Harrell and Wolfe's trey as part of the Eagles' 26-point fourth quarter.
"We know they can shoot it well," VanderBrug said. "We concentrated on closing out. Maybe we were getting a little nervous at the end but we just tried to close out."
Ahead 69-67, the Trojans got the ball to Kahli Valrie, their only player besides VanderBrug in double figures. Valrie made both ends of a 1-and-1 to cap his 22-point night and extend Timothy's lead to 71-67 with 22 seconds left.
The Eagles didn't score again.
"They wore us down a little," Timothy Christian coach Jack LeGrand said. "We weren't that deep today. That one kid (Lutze) really got going. We knew we were going to be in for a battle."
The Trojans outrebounded the Eagles 36-33 and shot better at 51 percent (29 of 57). VanderBrug had a lot to do with that, making 12 of his 19 attempts from the field.
"He's a very good player inside and outside," LeGrand said. "He's a load. Connor has to do a lot for us. He handles the ball, he hardly comes out, he does so much for us."
The Eagles hurt themselves in the first half with 11 turnovers and 3 of 8 shooting at the free-throw line. They scored just 22 points and trailed 33-22, which proved to be more than a 45-point second half could overcome.
"We just didn't bring the intensity in the first half," McNamara said. "That's a surprise because we lost against St. Eds (on Saturday) and usually a good team comes out angry and you get after it and we didn't get after it that first half. Second half much better but that's not going to cut it."
Harrell led the Eagles with 21 points, Lutze scored 16 and Wolfe 13. Wolfe finished with 4 steals and Harrell had 3 while Zach Singer totaled 8 points and 9 rebounds.
"We didn't play a very smart game," McNamara said. "Hopefully we'll do better against (St.) Francis (Saturday night)."