During their time in the DuPage Valley Conference, both Wheaton North and Lake Park have come to know that sometimes winning a conference boys basketball matchup is just about being a little less sloppy and a little more aggressive than your opponent.
Both teams kicked off their 2018 calendar years on Friday night, and it was Wheaton North following that formula to a 48-44 win.
"They're so good defensively and they get up and pressure so much, so we were preaching coming into the game, 'Hey, you're gonna have to cut hard, screen hard, meet passes and be strong with the ball,' " Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann said. "For chunks of time we did well with that."
It was a tale of two halves, with Wheaton North (7-7, 4-2) using a big second quarter to open up a lead predicated on making the extra pass to find the open man. The Falcons assisted 8 of their 12 made field goals in the first half on their way to a 31-20 halftime lead.
Jacob Schauer's outside shooting was a big part of that, as he knocked down three first-half 3-pointers on his way to 11 points in the first two quarters and 14 for the game.
Unfortunately for Lake Park (3-10, 1-4), their first half included 10 turnovers to just 1 assist, and that stat told the story of their entire season.
"We're only averaging 9 assists per game, which is the worst it's been in 10 years," Lake Park coach Josh Virostko said. "We just aren't disciplined enough with our movement and that's we make some many turnovers.
"We just make poor passes and poor decision, and that's why we gave Wheaton North the lead. You can't give a good team a lead like that."
In the second half, Lake Park started moving the ball more effectively on offense and they ratcheted up their defensive intensity to fight back into it.
The Lancers held the Falcons to just 13 percent shooting in the second half and jumped out to a 6-0 run to trim the lead to 31-26, prompting a Wheaton North timeout. However, an 8-0 run out of that by the visitors spotted just large enough of a lead for the Falcons to squeak by despite their scoring woes.
"Exactly what we hoped wouldn't happen at halftime, happened," Brackmann said. "I told them that we have to be strong and not be surprised by the pressure they put on us."
In the fourth quarter, Lake Park managed to cut the lead to a single possession twice in the final two minutes -- first on a Diamante Smith coast-to-coast layup to make it 44-41, and then on a Smith 3-pointer to make it 47-44 with 13.5 second to play.
Smith led Lake Park with 13 points, but Wheaton North junior Deng Reng was able to make a key free throw at the other end to extend the lead to two possessions and seal the win.
Reng finished with 12 points and made 8 of 9 free throws.
"You saw in the fourth quarter we're looking for someone to make a play late," Virostko said of his team. "We have no one who can put us on his back and say, 'I'm gonna take us there.' And that's why we can't win these close games."