Ryan Antony spent much of Naperville Central's game at West Aurora Friday night setting up teammates with one nifty pass after another, but when it mattered most the senior point guard fired away.
Down 2 points in the closing moments, Antony drained a corner 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left. The Redhawks survived a Jontrell Walker 14-footer that rimmed out and two missed Blackhawk tips at the buzzer for a 57-56 victory.
Naperville Central celebrated with a pile of jubilant players diving on top of each other at center court, a scene that looked more like a sectional championship game. After losing in overtime in the first meeting against the Blackhawks and by a buzzer-beater to Glenbard North, the Redhawks were ready to have a nail-biter go their way.
"It's amazing and this is the last time we are going to play them here, senior year, at West Aurora, this is one of the most fun environments to play in," said Patrick Maloney, who dominated inside with 20 points and 15 rebounds. "Leaving like this is incredible."
Antony's game-winner came after West Aurora's Roland Griffin -- who led all players with 21 points and hit 5 of 7 free throws -- missed a 1-and-1 with 21.9 seconds left and the Blackhawks up 56-54.
The Redhawks came down the court and missed badly on a 3-pointer, but 6-foot-8 Nick Czarnowski grabbed the rebound and kicked out to Antony, whose clutch shot was the 15th and final lead change or tie of the night.
"I saw (Czarnowski) had a chance to get that rebound, I knew (he) is a team player and would pass out to me," Antony said. "I knew it was my opportunity to shoot the ball. I got my feet right. I hadn't made a 3 all game so it was about time."
Antony said his last game-winner came during the AAU season last summer when he's teammates with Czarnowski and West Aurora's Walker on IBA Select. He hit one from almost half court to upset the Mac Irvin Fire.
"I like having the ball in my hands at the end of the game," Antony said. "I know my teammates have confidence in me."
West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman drew up the final play for Walker, who took the inbounds pass from Matt Dunn, dribbled the length of the court and got a good look from the right baseline with two defenders contesting the shot.
"I thought we had a pretty good shot at it," Kerkman said. "And we had two tips. You can't ask for much more than that."
Naperville Central (17-5, 8-2) won its eighth straight and along with Glenbard North pulled within a game of West Aurora (16-4, 9-1) in the DVC race.
The Blackhawks host the Panthers next Friday.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group of kids," Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said. "These guys battled. We lost on 50-footer against Glenbard North. It's high school basketball. It's a roller-coaster ride."
The Redhawks led 25-21 at halftime despite Czarnowski getting in early foul trouble. The 6-6 Maloney stepped up, scoring 6 of his 10 first-quarter points on second-chance baskets, and posting a double-double by halftime with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Naperville Central also broke West Aurora's press several times for easy layups.
"We knew we had a 2-on-1 every time we broke that press," Antony said.
The Blackhawks scored 23 points in the third quarter including 8 in a wild 40-second sequence late to lead 44-43 going to the fourth. Dunn sparked the flurry with his pressure defense, and after Tommy Koth swished a 3-pointer, Dunn scored on a layup after a steal and assist from Myles Wisley.
West Aurora took its biggest lead at 48-43 when Koth assisted Griffin inside, but the Redhawks came right back with a high-low pass from Maloney to Czarnowski. The Redhawks caught West Aurora at 51 with 2:44 left on 2 free throws from Matt Bennett, and took a 54-53 lead on Czarnowski's 3-point play.
Dunn penetrated and found Carleton Williams for his first basket, a lay-in and a 55-54 lead. Wisley split free throws with 1:10 left to make it 56-54, setting the stage for Antony's game-winner.
Czarnowski added 14 points and 8 rebounds for the Redhawks who outrebounded the Blackhawks 34-21.
"Mainly it was effort," said Griffin, who also led West Aurora with 8 boards. "We weren't boxing out. Basically they were working harder than us.
"We're going to come back and rebound. We'll come back."
Walker finished with 16 points and Koth scored 9. West Aurora shot 44 percent from the field (21 for 47) to the Redhawks' 48.1 (25 for 52).
"We've been practicing very poorly for about three weeks now and it finally caught up with us," said Kerkman, whose team plays St. Patrick at Batavia's Night of Hoops Saturday. "We didn't play four quarters. We've got to develop more consistency."