All season long Naperville North boys basketball coach Jeff Powers believed his Huskies were an elite team.
Friday night they proved him right.
Naperville North downed DuPage Valley Conference rival Wheaton North 77-72 in the Class 4A Hinsdale Central sectional final to win the program's first sectional title since 1998.
By beating the Falcons for the third time this season, the Huskies (25-5) advance to the Northern Illinois University supersectional -- the Elite Eight of Class 4A. The Huskies will face Bolingbrook (28-1), a 78-66 winner over Joliet West in the Lincoln-Way East sectional final, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in DeKalb.
"Before we left I had all the pairings," Powers said, "and I said, 'We're Sweet Sixteen. All year long I've been telling everybody that you guys are elite. Know what they call the next thing, guys? Elite Eight. So here's where we've got to go.'"
There were 26 lead changes and 15 ties in a well-played game that often raged at a lightning pace.
Three rapid lead changes culminated in Chris Johnson's bucket and a 73-72 Huskies lead with 1:25 left in the game. A Wheaton North miss and a turnover gave the ball to the Huskies, and Winston Elston split free throws to make it 74-72 with 23.2 seconds left.
Another Falcons turnover sealed their fate. Mitch Lewis, a three-year starter who paced the Huskies with 21 points, got a steal and passed ahead to Youcef Merabet for the layup and a 76-72 lead with 12 seconds left. The Falcons missed a 3-pointer on their next possession, and Cam Hardy split free throws at the other end to cap the win.
"My sophomore year I was not even in the regional championship," Lewis said. "It's just nice to see how much we can climb and keep on going and make history at Naperville North."
Fourth-seeded Naperville North trailed 49-42 in the third quarter after Rowan McGowen knocked down his sixth 3-pointer of the night for No. 6 Wheaton North (24-7). McGowen and Luke Anthony, both three-year starters, scored 24 points apiece in their final game for the Falcons.
"I felt we played probably one of our best games of the season," McGowen said. "They were just able to take it and end up on the top at the end there."
Merabet scored 9 of his 13 points in the third quarter to spark the Huskies' rally. Lewis and Johnson, who had 11 points, battled foul trouble the second half and had to sit for stretches of both quarters. Merabet's steal and bucket followed by his three-point play finally put Naperville North ahead for the first time since late in the second quarter.
"Us seniors, we don't want this season to end any time soon," Merabet said. "It's just a great feeling and we want to keep rolling."
Sophomore Tom Welch also sparked the Huskies, scoring 18 points while grabbing a game-high 9 rebounds. Jack Bennett, one of five Wheaton North seniors who saw court time along with Ethan Block and Matt Brcka, scored 11 points.
"Obviously they'll remember some disappointment, but they should be unbelievably proud with how they played tonight," said Falcons coach Dave Brackmann. "They made one or two plays more than us but I am unbelievably proud with that performance tonight."
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