Naperville Central needed to overcome a poor free-throw shooting effort in the fourth quarter to secure a road win at Wheaton North.
The Redhawks, despite shooting 4 of 14 from the free-throw line in the game's final minute, held off a Falcons comeback in a 52-47 DuPage Valley Conference victory Friday night.
"The last few games have been a problem with poor free-throw shooting," Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said. "We have the West Aurora game wrapped up and we go 4 of 12. At Glenbard North we didn't shoot well, and then tonight, we had a chance to win by 15. It's something we're going through as a team right now, but other than the free throws, I thought we played really well."
Naperville Central nearly led from start to finish as Wheaton North tied the game 8-8 late in the first quarter on an inside basket by Nathan Houlihan.
However, the Redhawks scored two quick baskets in transition, one on a fastbreak layup by Patrick Maloney on a feed from point guard Ryan Antony, followed by a buzzer-beating layup by Nate Dahl, again off a pass from Maloney.
Maloney continued setting up his teammates in the second quarter, again finding Dahl on a fastbreak that put the Redhawks up 14-8.
"Ryan is very tough in transition and he does such a good job in the backcourt by taking on the pressure and bringing the ball up the court," Kramer said. "Sometimes you take it for granted, but I thought he played awfully well for us tonight."
Naperville Central put emphasis on its post players in the second half as 6-foot-8 senior Nick Czarnowski and the 6-foot-6 Maloney combined for 24 points on the night, including 16 in the second half.
Czarnowski, who finished with a game-high 14 points, scored 9 of his team's 15 third quarter points as the Redhawks led by as many as 12.
"I thought we took too many 3s in the first half," Kramer said. "You've got to be patient when you're trying to get the ball inside, and I thought we did a better job of that in the second half."
At one point Naperville Central connected on seven consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter before Antony split a pair with 2:05 left that made the score 48-41.
From there the Redhawks went 4 of 14 from the free-throw line, allowing Wheaton North to hang around.
Nick Traversa knocked down a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left that cut Naperville Central's lead to 49-44.
He then made three straight free throws after being fouled near the top of the key that made the score 51-47 with 12.9 seconds left.
However, Traversa's 3-point attempt with five seconds left rimmed out.
"We didn't play hard enough for 32 minutes to beat a great team like Naperville Central," Wheaton North coach Dave Brackman said. "We showed spurts of energy near the end, but not enough throughout the game."