A nasty bout of the flu forced Darius Wells to miss South Elgin’s boys basketball practice on Monday and a half-day of school on Tuesday.
Perhaps that’s why the senior guard turned in a Michael Jordan-esque performance Tuesday night at Batavia.
In a game reminiscent of the former Chicago Bulls star’s 38-point effort while battling the flu to beat the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals, Wells fought through his 48-hour illness to pour in 32 points, including a career-best eight 3-pointers, and propel the Storm to a 71-59 victory over the Bulldogs in the Upstate Eight Conference sixth-place crossover game.
Wells didn’t start and was subbed out a handful of times throughout the game to preserve his energy. The strategy worked, helping him tie his career-high point total with an efficient 12-for-18 shooting night that featured 8-for-10 accuracy from behind the arc. Wells was particularly unstoppable in the second quarter, erupting for 16 points to outscore Batavia 16-13 by himself.
“After he first got in the game he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to come out,” South Elgin coach Matt Petersen said. “But after he broke a sweat and loosened up, he felt better out there and then he got the hot hand. He was feeling it tonight.”
Petersen credited 6-foot-9 center Tyler Hankins’ nine first-quarter points for establishing an inside scoring threat that caused the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defense to pay close attention to the lane in the second quarter. Wells then took advantage of a couple of open looks from the arc to begin the second quarter, burying back-to-back 3s to give the Storm a 20-13 edge. Batavia (7-17) then started extending its defense to contest Wells’ shots, but by then Wells’ confidence was flowing. He sandwiched two more 3s around a pull-up jumper to stretch South Elgin’s lead to 31-22, then jumped the passing lane for a steal and fast-break layup in the middle of South Elgin’s 2-2-1 full-court zone press to push the margin to double digits at 33-22.
Leading 39-26 at the half, South Elgin broke the game open in the third quarter, scoring 10 of the first 14 points after intermission, capped by a 3-pointer from Matt McClure that supplied the Storm with a 49-30 cushion. Wells closed out the quarter with a 3-pointer as time expired for a 54-36 lead, and Batavia could draw no closer than 12 points in the final 8:00.
“Wells is a great player,” Bulldogs coach Jim Nazos said. “He hit a couple of open 3s early, but four or five of his 3s we contested with hands up in his face, and they were absolute bombs from a few feet behind the 3-point line. When you make four or five contested bombs from 25 feet, you just have to hand it to the kid for making tough shots.”
Senior forward Tyler Knox paced Batavia with 18 points in his final game on the Bulldogs’ home court. Batavia will spend the weekend preparing for its Plainfield East regional opener against Downers Grove South on Monday at Plainfield East. The Bulldogs are seeded 19th in the East Aurora sectional, and the Mustangs are 14th.
Tuesday’s victory evened South Elgin’s season record at 14-14. The win was the Storm’s fourth in their last six games, giving them added momentum heading into their St. Charles North regional opener with Elgin on Monday at North. South Elgin is seeded fourth in the regional. Elgin is fifth.
“Elgin is a carbon copy of us,” Petersen said. “We’re just like each other in so many ways. We both like to play fast, drive the lane, pressure the ball and shoot the 3. It’s going to come down to us keeping the ball out of the paint defensively because they love to drive the lane. That’s the key for us.”