Tomcats take Aurora bragging rights with wild 82-80 win
The entertainment factor for Saturday's East versus West battle of Aurora is what basketball fans have come to know to expect, but no one knew what kind of show Tomcats junior Jalen Bealer was ready to unveil.
East Aurora pulled out a wild 82-80 nonconference win over the host Blackhawks but they needed each and every big play from Bealer, who exploded for a career-high 35 points while playing in his first varsity East-West showdown.
Bealer knocked down a trio of 3s in a 14-point second quarter, opened the second half with another long range basket, made good on 8 straight free throws in the third quarter, then added three more clutch baskets in the final quarter as the visitors survived a furious comeback by West (11-7).
"He's been a consistent 15, 16 points a game, but tonight I told him it was time to go make your name," East coach Rick Robinson said, "He came out and played hard. I can't ask any more of the guy."
The Tomcats (7-9) led 12-5 early following a pair free throws from Bealer but the Blackhawks led 21-17 after one quarter as Terrence Smith slammed down a pair of dunks. With Bealer knocking down back-to-back 3s at the end of the half, East used a 13-0 run to lead 39-35 at the break. Bealer then opened the second half with another 3 and the Tomcats continued their roll, one that saw their lead grow to 57-40 after a 31-5 outburst.
"That [run] just turned me up and I was ready to keep the team up and keep it going," said Bealer. "I was ready to play this game. I knew this game was big. I'm just so happy we won this game."
West cut the deficit to 59-49 after three quarters before trailing 73-59 midway through the fourth.
But to their credit, the Blackhawks finished with a flurry of points. Jordan Brooks tallied 9 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter including a 3 that closed to within 78-74 with just over a minute left. Smith's 3 then cut the gap to 81-79 with less than a minute, but the hosts would get no closer.
Jabian Acosta (17 points, 9 rebounds) helped seal the win for the Tomcats by splitting a pair of free throws in the waning seconds.
"I was so nervous at the end of the game," Bealer admitted. "I was nervous and they kept shooting 3s and making them back to back. Games like that I just get so nervous. I don't want to lose and I just have to keep my head in the game."
Brooks was one of four West players to score in double figures but that was little consolation after the tough loss to their rivals.
"It was a really fun game; a great atmosphere for us," said Brooks. "The whole Aurora came out and we really appreciated that. But game wise we really wanted to win and get the trophy back in the cases. East has had it for a little while now."
Blackhawks coach Brian Johnson liked his team's gutsy play down the stretch, but knows they just can't fall behind so much against a team like East.
"It's a fun high school game for the fans. Not necessarily the best feeling for us," Johnson said.
"Giving up 82 points in a game is really hard to win. They battled hard, but you can't go through three quarters and say, oh we're down 15 in the fourth, let's battle back."