It wasn't artistic basketball, but the West Aurora boys got the win they needed to stave off Glenbard North and take the early lead in the DuPage Valley Conference all by themselves.
Headed by Jontrel Walker's 23 points and second-half efforts by Roland Griffin and 6-foot-8 sophomore Carleton Williams, the Blackhawks withstood 18 points apiece from Panthers Jeremiah Fleming and Chip Flanigan to win 62-56.
"I didn't think it was as smooth as it should have been or it could have been," West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman said. "But when it got down to the nitty-gritty the last three or four minutes the kids really sucked it up and did a good job, made good decisions."
The post-holiday layoff followed by two off days due to school cancellations didn't make for great flow, but it did make for a close game. West Aurora (9-3, 4-0) led throughout the first half, Walker scoring 16 points while resilient Glenbard North (9-3, 3-1) flew downcourt for a transition bucket at every opportunity.
"We want to run a lot, we want to get the ball in and out if they're going to press us," said Flanigan, who added 3 steals, 4 blocks, 9 rebounds and a couple nifty spin moves to the hoop. "Not many teams get down the floor as fast as us."
One of those Flanigan spin moves, while getting fouled, resulted in a three-point play for the Panthers' first lead, 30-29, at 5:14 of the third quarter.
The first of Fleming's three second-half 3-pointers gave Glenbard North a 33-31 lead 30 seconds later, but a Walker 3 from the left corner and two straight Griffin putbacks had West Aurora ahead to stay.
"We just kept our confidence," Walker said. "The second half things slowly started going against us, but we kept our confidence and we kept playing hard and things started turning our way."
At halftime the senior guard told the 6-4 Griffin to "have a short-term memory" after a forgettable first half. Griffin also listened to Blackhawks big-man coach Dan Batka, who had brief heart-to-hearts with both Griffin and Williams as West Aurora shot around before the third quarter.
"He got me going, too, he really pushed me to play better," said Griffin, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half. Williams scored all 8 of his in the fourth quarter.
West Aurora took a 44-40 lead into the fourth quarter. Kendall Holbert's 3 got Glenbard North within 46-43, but Williams countered with two inside baskets and a pair of free throws to send the Panthers scrambling thereafter.
"We had to play on their floor and play a close game," Kerkman said. "At the end when the pressure was on, I thought we played much, much better than we did in the first quarter. Our last three ballgames have pretty much been that way. We've had two overtimes, now this game. We should pretty well be accustomed to playing under pressure."
Fleming put the Panthers on his back with a wild lefty lay in and a 3 from the top of the key to get within 58-56 with 30 seconds left. Griffin answered with 2 clutch free throws, among the Blackhawks' 16 of 17 from the line. A missed 3 by the Panthers, and Griffin celebrated with an uncontested dunk from an easy assist by Tommy Koth.
"I'm proud of our guys, I thought we fought hard," said Glenbard North coach Joe Larson. "Didn't play our best game, I'm sure they think that they probably didn't play their best game either. Two or three possessions I think they beat us in tonight and that was the difference."