AURORA – A flurry of late 3-pointers wasn’t enough for the Aurora Christian boys basketball team to compensate for what went down in the paint most of the night.
Timothy Christian big man Connor VanderBrug shredded the Eagles on the interior for 29 points and 11 rebounds, powering the visiting Trojans to a 72-67 nonconference win Wednesday that tightened considerably in the closing minutes.
“The big guy really hurt us,” Eagles coach Pat McNamara said. “He did a great job. We concentrated on denying him in the post and doubling down, and he’s just a really great player. I told our guys before the game a couple days ago that he’d probably be the best big guy we’d see during the regular season, and he was.”
Timothy Christian led by as many as 15 points late in the third quarter, 50-35. But the Eagles closed to within 50-41 by the end of the quarter on a buzzer-beating fast break layup by junior Wes Wolfe, and the Eagles continued to make inroads in the final quarter.
Aurora Christian was cold from the perimeter much of the night but heated up in time to make a game of it, with sophomore R.D. Lutze canning three of his four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. His final 3-pointer from the corner brought the Eagles within 69-67 with 28 seconds to play. Lutze made his return after missing two games with an injury to his lip that required stitches.
“We did a good job looking for him down the stretch,” McNamara said. “R.D.’s got an inside game, he’s got an outside game. Against a zone, we finally moved the ball a little bit better down the stretch there.”
After closing to within two, Aurora Christian fouled Trojans guard Kahli Valrie, who made both free throws to make it 71-67 with 22.9 seconds to play.
Lutze missed a 3-point try at the other end, and the Eagles (3-2) ran out of time to complete their comeback bid.
Timothy Christian (3-2) controlled the first half, after which the Trojans led, 33-22.
Aurora Christian was beaten to loose balls and on the glass to compound their difficulties guarding the 6-foot-6 VanderBrug and Valrie (22 points).
“We just didn’t play with much intensity, and that was a surprise because we lost against [St. Edward], and usually if you’re a good team, you come out and you’re angry because you lost and you come out and you get after it,” McNamara said. “We really didn’t get after it in the first half. Second half, much better, but that’s not going to cut it.”
Trojans coach Jack LeGrand called VanderBrug – a three-year varsity player – “a hidden gem.” The 29 points tied the senior’s career high.
“He’s a load,” LeGrand said. “He’s a pretty good player.”
LeGrand credited the Eagles for their spirited rally, which was spearheaded by high-motor, ball-hawking senior guard Johnathan Harrell. Harrell led the Eagles with 21 points.
“I think they wore us down a little bit,” LeGrand said. “We weren’t really deep today, and I think our guys got a little tired, and then they started hitting them. [Lutze] really got going.”
Lutze (16 points) and Wolfe (13) joined Harrell in double figures for Aurora Christian. Junior Zach Singer chipped in with eight points and seven rebounds.
The Eagles open Suburban Christian Conference play Saturday against St. Francis.