With thoughts of contending in the DuPage Valley Conference, Naperville North could ill afford to drop a third straight league boys basketball game Friday night in Wheaton.
So Jelani McClain and his teammates went out and put forth one of their better defensive efforts -- at least for three quarters -- on their way to a 56-44 victory at Wheaton Warrenville South. McClain led all scorers in the game with 14 points, but just as important were his 4 steals and a total team defensive effort that held the Tigers to just 24 points through three quarters.
"We've been making defense our emphasis point in practice. Our coaches have been establishing that pretty well," McClain said after the Huskies improved to 5-3, 1-2 in the DVC. "So tonight we came out and made it a point to play good defense."
Naperville North led 15-12 after one quarter before clamping down and holding the Tigers to just two points in the second quarter while taking a 26-14 lead at the half. The guard trio of McClain, Anthony Rehayem and Jayson Winick took away passing lanes from the Tigers (1-5, 0-3) and the defense also received a big boost from 6-foot-6 Deon Merrill, a transfer from Gordon Tech who just now is starting to make an impact on the court for Naperville North.
Merril had 9 points and had a pair of blocked shots and a pair of steals, and he also took a charge for good measure.
"I thought we played three pretty good quarters," Huskies coach Jeff Powers said. "Deon Merrill stepped it up today and he was outstanding. And then you have Anthony and Jelani … they are so quick and so active."
Rehayem gave the offense an early spark with a pair of 3-pointers and 8 points in the opening quarter, but he picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and finished the night with 10 points, adding just a pair second-half free throws to his early outburst. But with Naperville North's defense in control and a balanced attack spreading the points around, the visitors built a 42-24 lead heading in the sloppy fourth quarter and notched its first DVC win of the year.
"We're striving for the DVC championship, so we've just got to get better and get to work in practice," McClain said.
For the Tigers, Keishawn Watson and Matt Kienzle each had 10 points to lead the way, and Joe Metzger and Brian Summers each connected on 3s as Wheaton Warrenville South battled to stay close to the Huskies.
"They had a lot of kids that played well in the first half for them," Tigers coach Bob Szorc said. "I think they do a great job (defensively) of bothering you. Give them credit. They take away things you want to do as a group."