Gray, Metea Valley battle past Naperville North
Stepping onto the hardwood always brings a smile to the face of Metea Valley's guard Jahki Gray, but on Friday night he was still beaming after leaving the court.
The Mustangs' senior scored a season-best 20 points and helped the hosts knock off Naperville North 50-47. Gray knocked down four 3-pointers in the game but also added an impressive reverse layup at a key moment in the fourth quarter to guide the hosts to the DuPage Valley Conference victory.
"My shot has been off for like a few games but I got my shot back, so now I'm cool," said Gray, who tallied 11 points as the Mustangs led 23-19 at the half. "They're one of the best teams in the conference, so I'm happy to get the win. The fans were into it and I was definitely having fun. I love basketball."
At times it appeared as if this was a one-on-one contest between Gray and the Huskies talented guard Luke Williams, who scored a game-high 23 points before fouling out in the final minute. Williams had just two points in the first quarter Friday but then followed a steal with a dunk while scoring 7 points in the second quarter, and then added 14 more after the intermission.
"Luke is a very competitive player," Gray said. "Me and him we're just going back and forth. I was lucky to get the win. And very happy to get the win. Our game plan was just to go in and play as hard a defense as we can. Play the same defense we've been playing all year and get our fourth straight win."
Metea Valley (9-5, 2-2) built a 23-12 lead in the second quarter following a dunk by Will Ashford, but after that Williams and Bryce Welch did their best to battle back and the Huskies (9-8, 2-2) actually took their first lead of the night -- 32-31 -- into the fourth quarter.
"Credit to Metea and their team. They played a great game," Naperville North coach Gene Nolan said. "They've got so many offensive weapons that they can score in a variety of ways. They played a great game, but I thought our kids did a great job battling back."
Gray opened the final quarter with a 3 as the Mustangs reclaimed the lead and then with a 41-37 lead and less than 2:30 left to play, he dribbled through traffic on the baseline and finished a dazzling reverse layup to increase the lead to six points. The Huskies did close to within 43-41 after a pair of Williams free throws, but Metea Valley closed out the game with some clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch.
The Mustangs made 12 of 15 foul shots in the fourth quarter, including a 5-for-5 effort from Ashford who finished with 14 points.
"We tried to lengthen the game at the end by fouling. It's hard to make pressure free throws and they did that," Nolan said. "It was difficult to chip away at that lead when they're making their free throws every trip down. Credit to them. They're a great team."