PLANO – Cory Windle admittedly grew winded Saturday night while pondering the topic of energy. Eventually, he found his pulse in talking about the Aurora Christian boys basketball team's own heartbeat.
What allowed Windle and the Eagles to surge 14 points ahead of Kaneland in the opening minutes?
How did ACS channel what waning strength it had to hold off the Knights, 54-46, for third place at the Plano Christmas Classic?
The best Windle could fathom at the end of the team's fourth game in as many days was the Eagles' transition attack. It didn't always emerge against Kaneland, but was plenty effective when it did.
"Our guys have such good hands and they see the ball really well," said Windle, a senior forward. "They can grab it, and as soon as they grab it, you just see and you go. It's just that instant."
Aurora Christian capitalized on five early Knights turnovers to take a 14-0 lead after just 3:52. The Eagles (9-5) led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter before taking a 36-24 edge into halftime.
Shaky shooting from the Knights (6-6) ultimately added up. While Kaneland had several chances to pull within five points in the final quarter, three-pointers and mid-range jumpers often rattled out as the team finished 19 for 50 (38 percent) from the field.
Coach Brian Johnson stressed the importance of strong starts after the Knights again showed added urgency down the stretch. He plans to be adamant before the team resumes Northern Illinois Big 12 East play against Yorkville on Friday.
"I think it's just something that we've got to make sure the kids realize and talk about," Johnson said. "I think it starts with just coming back to our next practice ready to go and focused."
The Eagles looked lost in that department at times late in Saturday's game, as the Knights' Dan Miller again played shutdown defense on an opponent's top player.
After Windle scored 14 points in the first half, Miller helped limit him to one basket the rest of the way.
Miller finished with 15 points – trailing Windle by one for the game high – while adding five rebounds and three assists in what Johnson termed the senior wing's best high-school outing to date.
"I don't think there's been a game in the two years that Dan's been on the varsity where I've ever thought that he's not bringing as much as he physically possibly can bring," Johnson said. "You know, he makes mistakes, which all the guys do, but it's hard to get mad at a kid who just leaves every ounce of energy out on the floor every single game."
Aurora Christian shot 55.6 percent in the first half and 30.8 percent in the second.
"Four games in four days takes a toll, especially mentally," Eagles coach Pat McNamara said.
Johnson agreed, while adding that it couldn't be a crutch. Again, he saw the Knights on the verge of cutting into the Eagles' lead, especially after Matt Limbrunner (11 points) took over the paint in the second half and Aurora Christian converted just 12 of 21 foul shots.
Johnathan Harrell and Ryan Suttle added 10 points apiece for Aurora Christian, which gladly rode its early resolve to what proved to be an efficient lead.
A handful of Eagles gathered for a shootaround at school to stay fresh for the game, which tipped off about 30 minutes later than the scheduled 7 p.m. start time.
While the team had played its share of basketball this week, Windle simply called it part of a plan to shock the body.
"The physical part can come from mental," he said. "If you think you're tired, then you're going to be tired."