WHEATON – Wheaton North still had a bad taste in its mouth.
A tough, one-point overtime loss to Geneva one week ago was the only blemish on the Falcons boys basketball team’s conference record. Taking the court for the first time since that defeat, against St. Charles East on Friday night, they wanted to make a statement.
Wheaton North took an early double-digit lead in the first half and never looked back, holding off the Saints, 55-47, in DuKane Conference action.
The statement was made in large part by the Falcons (10-7, 5-1 DuKane Conference) connecting on 25-of 28 free-throw attempts, including a dazzling 16-of-18 in the fourth quarter. Jacob Schauer was at the peak of that performance, leading the Falcons with 20 points – 13 of which came at the foul line.
“We understand how important finishing a game is,” said Schauer, who was 11-of-12 from the line Friday night. “We sputtered a little bit against Geneva, not too much, but a little. We wanted to get back out there and to have a performance and shoot that well on our free throws is huge when we’re trying to close out a game.”
After doubling up the Saints, 24-12, at the halftime break, Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann expected a push from the Saints. While he credited Geneva for making some plays down the stretch a week ago to beat his group, they left no doubt in answering every single St. Charles East push in this one.
A lead that grew as big as 14 points early in the third quarter was cut to four after St. Charles East’s Cody Mitchell made a 3-pointer, followed by a layup from backup guard Tommy Craven.
But as Schauer did most of the night, he took control. A basket at the end of the third quarter, followed by six straight points from teammate Garrett Horner pushed the lead back up, safely, to 40-28.
“I thought we played well against Geneva, but it obviously wasn’t the result we wanted,” said Horner, who reached double figures with 11 points. “But to come out here, at home, and bounce back with a conference win is huge.”
It was that kind of night for the Saints (10-8, 3-3), who got a big offensive performance from Nate Ortiz. The senior guard finished with 25 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter.
His 3-pointer with 56.7 seconds left brought the deficit to five points, but it was too little too late for a Saints team that attempted just 11 free-throw attempts to Wheaton North’s 28.
“I mean, credit to [Wheaton North] on not only getting to the line that many times, but shooting that good of a percentage,” Saints coach Pat Woods said. “We’ve definitely got some things to work on going forward. I like our effort at times and that we kept trying to fight back, but to score only 12 points in the first half isn’t going to be good enough on most nights.”
Horner’s aforementioned six straight points to start the fourth quarter were the Falcons’ only two made field goals of the fourth quarter, yet they managed to put up a 22-point frame.
Brackmann joked that he’d like to take credit for his team’s success at the foul line Friday night, but it certainly gave him and his team confidence to close this one out.
“It is a very comforting feeling as a coach that you can get to that point in the game and can get the ball inbounded properly,” Brackmann said. “We’re going to have the right guys in the game, so you like your chance to close out games… Especially when you’re playing a team like St. Charles East, who is always going to give you a fight. We weren’t in any position to give them breathing room to come back. It was good feeling for everyone tonight.”