Though Naperville North was playing a regional final on its home court on Friday night, the top-seeded Huskies found themselves in an unfamiliar place after seven minutes, trailing an inspired Geneva team by 12.
But Naperville North used an airtight defensive effort from that point to turn the tables and end up in a very familiar place -- ahead at the final horn, in this case with a 64-51 victory.
"Coach just told us to keep our heads up, that we had the tools to get back in the game," said guard Kevin Lang of coach Jeff Powers' message to the team during an early timeout. "We knew we had to get some deflections that led to steals."
The Huskies (26-2) followed those instructions to a "T" (as in turnover) as they forced Geneva giveaways on 7 of 8 possessions at one point, 5 of them steals, with Lang pilfering a pair of wayward passes and racing in for breakaway layups, which sparked a 13-0 run that turned the early deficit into an 18-17 lead.
Naperville North's defense was so effective that after the Vikings (18-13) made 6 of 7 shots in the first quarter, they scored just 7 field goals over the game's final 25 minutes.
"That's pretty good defense, huh?" Powers asked rhetorically. "Give Geneva a lot of credit, they did do good things, but I'm proud of the way we defended them. We knew what they were doing and we just did a good job of slowing them down."
Geneva built its big lead by following coach Scott Hennig's plan to perfection, namely slowing the game down and taking only good shots. Four of those good shots were 3-pointers, which Mitch Mascari, Jack Hood, Nick Santos and Kross Garth converted in as many attempts.
The Vikings also fought off Naperville North's extended run to grab a 25-23 halftime lead on Santos's buzzer-beating 3.
"We wanted to shorten the game and have a chance to win in the fourth quarter," Hennig said. "The recipe to beat them was to control the game and have the ball more than them. Our first half was almost perfect, aside from a few hiccups, and we were still just up 2. They're just such a tough matchup; they have all the pieces to get downstate."
The Vikings could not overcome Naperville North's second-half burst. Jack Barry drained a trio of 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the third quarter, while Geneva could manage just 8 points as the Huskies led 41-33 after three periods.
Then Jack Hill took over for Naperville North in the final quarter with 12 points, which kept Geneva from never getting get closer than 7, the final time at 49-42.
The win moves the Huskies to the Glenbard East sectional semifinals, where they will face fifth-seeded Willowbrook in a semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday, with the downstate dream still alive after it was extinguished one step short last year in the supersectional.
"It feels great to win the regional," Lang said, "but we want to go farther than last year. This was just one of our goals on the way up."