WEST CHICAGO – Forced into a passive mode offensively for much of the night, Josh Ruggles finally had enough.
The Wheaton Academy junior 3-point sniper was face-guarded all over the floor throughout Tuesday night’s game against St. Francis, and if that weren’t agitating enough, Ruggles said some late-game trash talking at the free throw line further emboldened him to act.
With the score tied and a little more than 1:30 to play in the fourth quarter, Ruggles knifed to the baseline and swished a pull-up, short jumper for the go-ahead basket in the Warriors’ eventual 59-55 win against the rival Spartans.
The basket put Wheaton Academy on top, 54-52, and the Warriors led the rest of the way.
“I just was thinking attack, and see if we could get something,” Ruggles said. “I think we were at the bonus at that point, and they’re calling those fouls more, so I was thinking I either get to the line, or worst case scenario I just kick it out and we set it back up.”
Extreme patience was called for on Ruggles’ part based on the way the Spartans elected to defend him. Ruggles, who won an international 3-point shooting competition earlier this year, has become accustomed to extra defensive attention, but said the Spartans “took it to more of an extreme than other teams have,” with St. Francis guards Kevin Blank and Nick Fabianski leading the charge.
Ruggles attempted only one 3-point shot on the night and scored half of his eight points from the foul line but said he’s fine with being guarded that way since it creates openings for teammates.
“He’s not going to force anything, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing, because he needs to get some shots off,” Warriors coach Pete Froedden said. “As a result of people guarding him the way they guard him, we were able to get a lot of stuff inside to Chandler [Fuzak] early and we were able to get some things to the basket. … There’s a lot of things you can do because of people guarding him that way, and we’ll get better at taking advantage of that as we move forward.”
Wheaton Academy (5-2, 1-0 SCC Blue) led, 44-37, entering the fourth quarter but the Spartans (2-3, 1-1 SCC Blue) tied the game three times in the quarter, including 52-all on a pair of Jason Sullivan free throws with 1:53 to play.
But Ruggles’ shot and late production from guard Christian Smith helped the Warriors salt the win away.
Wheaton Academy made 9 of its 10 free throws in the final quarter.
Trailing at the half, Wheaton Academy moved ahead courtesy of a 12-3 burst in the third quarter that put the Warriors up, 40-35.
Ten players scored for the deep Warriors, led by 14 points from 6-foot-8 senior Gordon Behr and 13 points from the 6-10 Fuzak, a junior. Behr and Fuzak also combined for 17 rebounds and helped limit the production of Spartans forward Kilian Brown, a capable interior scorer who gave up several inches in the paint.
“We’re long,” Froedden said. “You’re going to have to score over guys. And we’re just learning how to not foul with our length.”
St. Francis senior Zach Prociuk scored his team’s first nine points, helping the Spartans start the game on solid footing.
The Spartans maintained a modest lead for most of the opening half and led 29-25 at the break. Prociuk finished with a game-high 17 points and tied the game twice in the fourth quarter.
“He’s one of our senior leaders,” Spartans coach Bob Ward said. “He’s a football kid and he’s really been working hard on his offensive game. He scuffled a little bit in some of our early ones but he really came out tonight and he was really impressive all over the floor, defensively and offensively.”
Adam Hart and Sullivan scored 11 each for the Spartans while junior Michael Shaw (10) gave the visitors a fourth double-digit scorer.
Fuzak and his brother, 6-7 sophomore Bennett, are in their first seasons at Wheaton Academy. The brothers, who recently moved to Geneva, were previously home-schooled.
“Coach Froedden, he’s given me a lot of things to really think about, so I’ve just been eating it up,” Chandler Fuzak said. “I’ve been doing what he tells me to, and it’s giving me success and the team success.”