Terrific defense down the stretch Friday night from Rolling Meadows led the Mustangs to a Mid-Suburban East win over Wheeling.
The performance of freshman Max Christie and his 22 points and 11 rebounds didn't hurt the cause, either.
Meadows broke open a close game in the latter stages of the fourth quarter with 3 straight steals and 7 consecutive points.
Six-foot-4 senior forward Ryan Carney added 8 points and 9 boards, and classmate Gio Carrillo pitched in with 12 points as the Mustangs won 56-47.
"We always say that our offense comes from our defense," said Christie. "We stayed focused tonight and the results showed."
Jeremy Kim led the way for the Wildcats with 13 points while Michael Best scored 12.
"Our goal is to battle for loose balls and keep it under 10 turnovers," said Wheeling coach Michael O'Keeffe. "But Meadows got to all the loose balls tonight and we had way more than 10 turnovers."
The first quarter was defensive-minded for both teams, but 8 points from Christie in the first period pushed Meadows to an early lead.
A second-quarter floater from Kim in the paint gave visiting Wheeling the lead midway through the stanza -- and then the period turned fast and furious.
The teams traded baskets until a long, contested 3 by Kim at the first-half buzzer gave Wheeling a 26-25 halftime advantage.
Christie had 16 points at the break.
"We struggled finding Christie on the perimeter in the first half, and containing him," said O'Keeffe. "We did a great job on the other guys. We were up 1 at halftime and you can't ask for more than that."
The third quarter was another back-and-forth affair, but Meadows took control near the end of the period.
A 3 from Meadows senior Joe Coen, then a driving layup from Willis Goodwin put the Mustangs up 38-32 heading into the fourth.
Meadows outscored Wheeling 13-6 in the third.
"For some reason we always struggle in the third quarter," said O'Keeffe. "That's been our Achilles' heel all year."
A steal and a layup from Wheeling frosh Joe Jordan (11 points) brought the Wildcats within 4 points midway through the final stanza.
Then with three minutes remaining and Meadows up 44-40, the Mustangs defense kicked it into high gear.
First Carrillo made a steal and drove in for a layup. Then Goodwin poked the ball away from a Wheeling player at midcourt, which led to 2 Carrillo free throws.
Another Wildcats turnover followed, Carrillo hit a 3-pointer moments later and just like that Meadows led 51-40.
"I give a lot of credit to our effort down the stretch," said Meadows coach Kevin Katovich, "especially Gio. We challenged him and he responded."
Best scored 6 points in the fourth quarter and helped Wheeling cut into the deficit late, but a strong defensive effort and a late free throw from Javonte Warrener of Meadows helped hold off the visitors.
Brandon Zettek finished with 8 points for Wheeling, while Goodwin had 6 for the Mustangs.
"It wasn't our best effort tonight," said Katovich, "but you have a give a lot of credit for that to Wheeling. We prepared for them in practice, but sometimes you can't replicate that in the game."