WHEATON – For three quarters Friday at the Spyglass Athletic Center, aggressive, physical defense gave the St. Francis boys basketball team a lead in a big game against Suburban Christian Conference rival Wheaton Academy.
But in the fourth quarter, that defensive effort nearly backfired on the Spartans as the Warriors almost came back from a 16-point deficit before falling one point short, 64-63.
“When you have a lead, you want the clock running,” St. Francis coach Bob Ward said. “You don’t want to be fouling them. You want them fouling you, and we were fouling them.”
The Spartans (12-2, 4-1) sent Wheaton Academy to the free-throw line 18 times in the fourth quarter.
Fourteen free throws were taken by 6-foot-3 senior guard Collin Roy, who connected on 10 en route to scoring 20 of his 25 points in the final quarter.
“Props to them – they’re a great defensive team,” Roy said. “I just started being more aggressive in the fourth quarter, looking for the drive and kick out.”
Wheaton Academy trailed 57-41 when St. Francis sophomore Jason Sullivan (11 points) connected on a 3-pointer with six minutes to play.
But the Warriors slowly chipped away at the deficit, forcing St. Francis into five turnovers in the fourth quarter with a full-court trapping press.
The Warriors had a chance to tie the game after Sullivan missed a free-throw with 18 seconds left, but misfired on a 3-point attempt.
Matt Bonner put the game away for St. Francis by hitting the first of two free throws with six seconds remaining. Roy hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer and tried to call timeout, but the Warriors had none left to use.
“Roy’s just a really, really good player,” Ward said. “He’s also a pretty good free-throw shooter and we found a way to foul him quite a bit.”
Wheaton Academy (12-5, 4-1) led 13-10 early in the second quarter, but an 8-0 run by the Spartans turned the game around, capped by Andrew Kimball’s trey from the left corner, the first of his team-high 22 points.
“We were just pressuring them hard,” Kimball said, explaining how the Spartans built a lead. “Mostly, we just kept on attacking, drawing fouls on Gordon Behr. He’s their presence in the paint, so we kept on going at him. Eventually, he fouled out.”
While the Spartans couldn’t match up size-wise with Behr, they still scored a lot of easy baskets inside because of the quickness and adept passing.
“I thought the kids at times tonight played as well as they have all year long,” Ward said. “They really looked for each other. Parts of that fourth quarter you’d like to probably take back, but when those things happen, there’s a reason for it, and that reason usually has to do with the fact that you’re playing a pretty good team and that’s what happened.”
The Spartans started to pull away late in the second quarter, taking a 29-22 lead into the halftime break and then outscored the Warriors, 22-13, in the third quarter to go up 51-35.
“We just played awful in the second and third quarters,” Roy said. “We struggled running our offense. We couldn’t get Gordon the ball and he was in foul trouble.”
Brandon Ruggles had 10 rebounds for Wheaton Academy, helping the Warriors win the battle on the boards.
Kevin McShea had nine points and five rebounds for the Spartans, who avoided falling two games behind in the conference standings.
“It’s a huge win,” Kimball said. “They’re obviously our rivals and they had a game up in the conference. Now we’re both even at 4-1, so it’s a huge win.”