Wheaton North senior guard Luke Anthony is no stranger to the DuPage Valley Conference grind. A three-year starting quarterback on the football team, he heard it time and again.
Same thing in basketball.
"We like to make a lot of games close, I don't know why," Anthony said. "The DVC's tough, I guess that's my answer."
Waubonsie Valley forced the issue Saturday, leading by 10 in the third quarter and by 3 early in the fourth. Host Wheaton North countered with Anthony at the foul line and key efforts off the bench by Matt Brcka, Deng Reng and Josh Sorenson to pull out a 63-59 victory.
"In this conference if you don't play well you're going to find yourself in a dogfight or on the losing end, and we found ourselves in a dogfight," said Falcons coach Dave Brackmann. "The great thing is we were able to battle and get it done in the end. We feel good about that, and we can learn from some things, too."
Wheaton North (14-4, 6-2) stormed to a 12-3 lead in the first four minutes. It took two timeouts for Warriors coach Jason Mead to fix things. What followed was the best Waubonsie Valley (7-11, 2-6) has played, Mead said, a game executed "well enough to win."
"I thought we took very few poor shots, we took a lot of good shots," Mead said. "We moved the ball well, we screened well and we took shots that our guys are good at taking."
The Chuck Robinson steal and two-handed slam is a given, but it also meant Brian Phillips hitting five 3-pointers, one on which he was fouled and added the free throw for a 53-50 Warriors lead with 6:16 left in the game. Seven seconds later Anthony tied it with his third 3. The race was on.
Waubonsie point guard Eric Cannon made a free throw that Anthony matched for a 54-54 tie, but when Brcka followed up Anthony's miss the Falcons never again trailed.
Three times over the last 3:13 Waubonsie closed within a point, the last on a Robinson free throw to pare Wheaton North's lead to 60-59 with 1:03 to play. Rowan McGowen hit a foul shot and Anthony made two with 5.4 seconds left as Waubonsie missed two 3-point tries.
Deng converted a key fourth-quarter steal, and Brcka and Sorenson combined for 17 points and 13 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards. Anthony led the Falcons with 21 points and McGowen added 15.
Phillips led Waubonsie with 18, followed by Cannon with 13 and crafty Luke Gregorio with 11 points. Robinson scored 9 with 10 rebounds.
"I think it was a nice step for us, a nice jump," Cannon said. "I think today we showed that we could play at a higher level. I think we were more aggressive today and it showed up on the scoreboard."