Aurora Christian punches state ticket by handing Indian Creek 1st loss
DEKALB -- The Aurora Christian boys basketball team slew the giant.
The Eagles made it look surprisingly easy, actually.
Aurora Christian avenged a pair of December losses to previously unbeaten Indian Creek with a 70-43 victory in a Class 1A supersectional at the NIU Convocation Center Tuesday.
The victory advances Aurora Christian (25-6) -- which lost seven of the top nine players from last year's Class 2A sectional semifinalist to graduation or transfer -- to a semifinal at Carver Arena in Peoria on Friday at 11 a.m.
The opponent will be Madison (26-10), which defeated Athens 68-43 in Jacksonville.
"Going into this year I didn't know where we would be, but I knew we were going to fight because that's our brand of basketball," senior guard Taaj Davis said. "We came in with a plan, we executed and the result came out."
Two key differences stood out between Tuesday's game and the Timberwolves' earlier sweep of the Eagles by 8 and 17 points, respectively.
First, when Indian Creek (35-1) paid extra attention to Davis like in both December games, his younger teammates stepped up. The senior guard was limited to 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting, but he delivered 4 assists and more secondary assists to facilitate points.
Sophomore Danny New led all scorers with 21 points to go with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Sophomore Jabari Sisco finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Danny Walker delivered 9 points and 9 rebounds.
"They thought if they stop Taaj, the game would be over," said Davis, who made 5 steals and grabbed 6 rebounds. "That's what we wanted. They came to me, I gave it to my teammates and we were able to work from there."
Secondly, the Timberwolves did not shoot well. Indian Creek shot 31 percent from the field (16 of 52), 12 percent from 3-point range (3 of 25).
"They were playing some very aggressive defense and getting out on our shooters," IC coach Joe Piekarz said. "We had some open looks too, though. We had open looks and they just kind of rimmed out. I think sometimes when your start to play from a deficit and press a little bit, one miss leads to two misses, which leads to three misses."
Aurora Christian senior guard Karsen Olsen got the Eagles off to a fast start. He scored 5 straight first-quarter points on a 3-pointer and a putback to stake his team to a 13-4 lead. They led 14-8 after a quarter, 34-14 at halftime and 51-31 through three quarters.
"Getting off to that good start really helped us get a rhythm going on offense," said Olsen, who finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds. "And it really helped us on the defensive end to keep them out of the paint."
Davis defended Indian Creek junior point guard Drew Gaston, who scored 29 points in the first meeting. Davis focused him keeping him out of the paint to limit his scoring and his effectiveness passing out to perimeter shooters. Gaston finished with 7 points, an assist and 5 turnovers.
Indian Creek 6-foot-4 forward Cooper Larsen was limited to 9 points and 3 rebounds before he fouled out. He scored 25 points in the second win over Aurora Christian in December.
None of it surprised fourth-year Aurora Christian coach Dan Beebe, who takes the Eagles to the state finals for the third time in school history and the first time since a runner-up finish in Class A in 1995.
"Would I say (the margin of victory) would be 20-something? Probably not," Beebe said. "But I knew we could beat them by double figures. I really believed that. The guys really locked in defensively."