WHEATON – Already owners of the Suburban Christian Conference Blue title, the Wheaton Academy boys basketball team added a bragging rights sweep to its résumé Wednesday.
The Warriors exhaled with a tight, 46-44 victory against host St. Francis on the strength of a hot start and enough clutch plays down the stretch.
"We just had to fight back, just had to make sure that we were matching their intensity and then locking down at the end minutes," said Warriors center Chandler Fuzak, a junior from Geneva.
Leading by the final margin in the last minute, Wheaton Academy (18-8, 9-0 SCC Blue) missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities to keep the Spartans alive.
St. Francis (15-9, 6-4) concluded its conference season. The Warriors will aim for a perfect league run Friday when they face Marmion.
Gordon Behr secured the rebound of Jason Sullivan’s wild 3-point attempt as the buzzer sounded. Moments earlier, senior Zach Prociuk darted off a screen and had an open look at a potential game-winning trey that looked good but didn't fall.
Spartans coach Bob Ward described a less-than-downtrodden demeanor in the locker room.
"I just think that they competed hard against a very good team," he said.
Behr finished with 15 points, joining Josh Ruggles (14) in double figures.
St. Francis also had a pair of players in double digits in Prociuk (21) and Sullivan (10), a fellow senior.
As it happened, a performance of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” from the Spartans’ pep band as halftime wound down proved a harbinger. The teams traded jabs, with Ruggles’ 3 from the right wing late in the third quarter the play that got Wheaton Academy back on track for the stretch run.
The SCC rivalry game attracted its usual capacity crowd, although fans also contended with added traffic depending on their arrival time to a game that tipped 20 minutes after its scheduled 7:30 p.m. start.
St. Francis held a rehearsal for its upcoming production of “The Wedding Singer” – yes, Adam Sandler has infiltrated high school drama now – putting parking outside the Spyglass Center at a more special premium.
Several spectators were forced to park in the shopping plaza lot across Roosevelt Road, dodging icy sidewalks as well as cars.
Wheaton Academy grabbed a 10-point lead at the end of one quarter and led by as many as 12 points early in the second, countering the Spartans’ 1 for 13 start from the field.
Seemingly primed for a blowout, the Warriors suddenly went cold while taking themselves out of several possessions due to foul trouble. Wheaton Academy committed seven personal fouls by the end of the first quarter.
"We try to step on peoples' throats when we get a lead," Fuzak said, "but, I mean, anything can happen. If they come back, we're just going to try and come back with as much as we can."
Prociuk, one of nine Spartans seniors, captained the climb back into the game, scoring 10 points in the quarter. His basket with 3:24 to play before halftime gave the Spartans their first lead at 18-16.
His field-goal attempt in the closing seconds – at last some action after St. Francis held the ball for nearly a minute – led to Adam Hart’s buzzer-beating putback that provided a 23-21 advantage.
"We've been playing pretty well, so I wasn't too concerned, because we've been getting good shots and the kids have been shooting it well," Ward said. "We picked it up, and I felt the kids throughout the night competed."