WEST CHICAGO – As nonconference games go, Wheaton Academy’s Friday night home contest against St. Viator was as big as it gets early in the season.
Not only did much preseason hype surround the Lions, but they also boasted a talent level that the Warriors might not see again until the postseason.
Wheaton Academy was strong for a half but St. Viator’s defensive quickness proved to be too much for the Warriors as the Lions pulled away in the third quarter for a 75-50 win.
Still, the Warriors’ play – especially in the first half – put the rest of the Suburban Christian Conference on notice that they are for real under first-year coach Pete Froedden.
Holding a 34-33 halftime advantage, the Lions (4-1) used a blanketing defense in the third quarter, holding the Warriors to just one field goal to surge ahead and improve to 4-1 on the young season behind Roosevelt Smart’s 30 points.
“We kind of got sideways there in the third quarter and couldn’t pull out of it,” Froedden said. “For us right now, it’s such a learning process with how we deal with adversity. These are those kind of games that are so important to learn from, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Wheaton Academy (4-2) had early momentum backed by a raucous student section and the play of 6-10 center Chandler Fuzak.
The junior was a tough defensive assignment in the first half for St. Viator, who often sent two defenders at the big man to try and slow him down.
The Lions made their move at the start of the third quarter, holding Wheaton Academy without a field goal for the last 7:31 of the quarter while watching as standout Warriors forward Gordon Behr picked up his third and fourth fouls.
The 6-8 senior was relatively quiet from the floor, scoring just four points and watching much of the third quarter from the bench.
Wheaton Academy 3-point ace Josh Ruggles dealt with foul trouble and a tenacious three-guard offense led by Smart, Drake recruit Ore Arogundade and Patrick McNamara. It was McNamara who drew the defensive assignment on Ruggles and earned praise from St. Viator coach Mike Howland.
“I thought that third quarter showed me what we want to be all about,” Howland said. “I thought Pat McNamara did a great job on Ruggles; he never guards the primary target on the other side. He did a great job of being there and having high hands.”
St. Viator’s defensive adjustments allowed its offense to open up, with Smart scoring 12 of the Lions’ 18 third quarter points. Smart goaded Behr into fouling him on a 3-pointer with 7:08 to go in the third quarter, sending Behr to the bench and giving St. Viator three free throws that Smart knocked down to jumpstart a 16-2 run.
A pair of smooth drives by Arogundade at the onset of the fourth quarter put the game away, with the Lions leading by as many as 29 points at one point.
“We were up by one at half and defense was the key after that. We gave up just four points in the third quarter and ended up going on a run,” Arogundade said. “We know we can score on offense so we worked all week on defense and just being in the right spots.”
Fuzak, after a strong first half, mustered only a pair of free throws in the fateful second half, leading Wheaton Academy with 14 points. Ruggles was largely smothered on the perimeter, hitting a 3 early in the first quarter and late in the fourth, and finishing with 10 points.