At times it looked like both sides might need to pull teeth just to reach double-digit scoring.
Yet here was Naperville Central inching its lead over Wheaton Warrenville South to double digits. Emerging from a defensive struggle, the Redhawks soon found themselves controlling the defending DuPage Valley Conference champions.
Closing Friday's boys basketball game with a 24-point fourth-quarter explosion, Naperville Central pulled away to a 55-43 victory to hand the Tigers their first DVC loss since the 2015-16 season.
"It's just a really big win for us in the conference," said Redhawks senior forward Nick Baskin. "Playing a team like Wheaton South, we knew they were going to be good. We had to come out with a really good mentality."
Six-foot-eight Redhawks post Ben Wolf, committed to Northern Michigan, pulled down 7 rebounds but scored his only 3 points from the line in the fourth quarter.
Naperville Central compensated with tremendous balance. Baskin, Tyler O'Brien and Dillon Kane scored 12 points while Daniel Raab came up with 6 of his 10 points in the fourth quarter off the bench.
WW South's Matt Brodhead, who scored all 12 of his points on fourth-quarter 3-pointers to match team-high honors with Jake Healy, tied the game at 32 with five minutes left. Baskin responded with a 3-point play that put Naperville Central ahead to stay.
Four different players combined to go 10 of 11 from the line in the final 1:41, a free-throw run begun by Kane's 3-point play.
"There's going to be times where we're going to have to win like that," said Redhawks coach Pete Kramer, whose team is coming off a tournament championship run at DeKalb. "You can tell we've matured and we're starting to do a better job."
Zach Harris knocked down a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter to give WW South (10-3, 4-1) its biggest lead of 15-7. A switch from zone to man defense sparked the Redhawks (11-2, 4-1), who rallied to take an 18-17 halftime lead on O'Brien's steal and basket.
WW South reclaimed a 24-21 third-quarter lead but Naperville Central again answered with a 10-0 run.
While the Tigers dive right back into DVC play to face Waubonsie Valley on Saturday, Naperville Central has a week off to prepare for next Friday's cross-town game at Naperville North (12-1, 4-0), the last unbeaten team in the league.
"We weren't very good tonight," said Tigers coach Mike Healy. "We made a lot of mistakes, a lot of little mistakes. We're just not athletic enough or tall enough to win games making some of those mistakes on a consistent basis."
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