It didn't start like the typically tight Wheaton Academy-St. Francis boys basketball game, but it ended like one.
St. Francis missed 9 of 10 first-quarter shots with 5 turnovers. In the second quarter the host Spartans assembled a 17-2 run. It was on.
Capping a second half of 10 lead changes and four tie scores, St. Francis got the shot it wanted for a would-be game-winner, but it didn't fall. With its 46-44 victory on Wednesday in Wheaton, Wheaton Academy (18-8, 9-0) remained perfect in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division.
"I think it was two hard-nosed teams that are just trying to peak at tournament time and both of us fighting hard defensively and both teams running into resistance," said Wheaton Academy coach Pete Froedden, whose Warriors go for the conference whitewash Friday against Marmion.
"It was a pretty tense game," said Froedden's son, Warriors guard Christian Smith, who helped his side go up 14-4 after one quarter. "It's a close rivalry, both schools just want to compete, want to do our best."
Headed by guard Zach Prociuk, who led all scorers with 21 points, St. Francis (15-9, 6-4) started making shots. Another factor was Wheaton Academy's 6-foot-8 Gordon Behr picking up his second foul at the 4:32 mark of the first quarter, not to return until the start of the third quarter. By then St. Francis led 23-21.
"Shots aren't going to fall sometimes and, you know, you've just got to keep shooting. Shooting's the best way to get out of a slump," said Spartans guard Jason Sullivan, who scored 10 points with 11 rebounds.
Prociuk and Sullivan were countered on the perimeter by Wheaton Academy's Josh Ruggles. St. Francis' Kilian Brown and a foul-free Behr dealt inside, vintage Spartans-Warriors.
Ruggles canned a 3 for a 36-35 Wheaton Academy lead entering the fourth quarter, Smith hit another to make it 39-37 and the Warriors didn't trail again.
Behr made it 46-40 with 3:07 left to play, then the Warriors went dry. On a Sullivan 3 and a Brown free throw, St. Francis pulled within 46-42 with 2:01 left. Twice, Wheaton Academy missed the front end of 1-and-1 free-throw situations.
With 15.7 seconds left St. Francis coach Bob Ward drew up a play for the win. Prociuk came around a screen for a 3 from the right wing. No go. Stuart Kurtyka, 5-foot-7, stole the rebound and got the ball to Sullivan for a desperation chance. Behr grabbed the final rebound, his eighth to go with 15 points. Ruggles scored 14.
"I think this is a good game for playoffs, getting ready for it, just to face some adversity like this," Behr said.
Yes, the playoffs. Ward will have no problem using that same play for his top shooter.
"We told the kids afterward, ‘He'll hit that. That might come back again.'"