Metea Valley and St. Charles North have plenty in common besides meeting in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover Thursday night in Aurora.
Both teams head into regional play next Monday night with a play-in game. If they can win that game, they each advance to play their rival the following night -- St. Charles East for the North Stars and Waubonsie Valley for the Mustangs.
The teams both found some positives from their final tuneup. The North Stars liked their fast start, a 19-point first quarter that had them leading until midway through the second quarter.
But the Mustangs finished the first half strong including a 7-0 run in the final minute to break a 26-26 tie. Metea Valley led the entire second half, extending the final margin to 62-53 after the North Stars had pulled as close as 2 points in the fourth quarter.
"St. Charles North has been playing at a high level," Mustangs coach Bob Vozza said. "I was happy with the way we responded after maybe a little slow start. I thought we had some poised key moments. Guys stepped up."
Three guys in particular stepped up for Metea Valley (18-9) starting with senior guard Trayvond Taylor. His 15 points led all scorers, and he was a pain to the North Stars on the defensive end with 5 steals.
"We got off to a slow start but defense just started clicking," Taylor said. "We just turned up the pressure a little and forced a couple turnovers."
Vin Patel added 13 points and three 3-pointers while 6-foot-10 Hayden Barnard totaled 10 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.
St. Charles North (16-10), coming off a 73-72 win over Niles Notre Dame on Sunday, scored the first 5 points, all from Tony Neari. Kyle Swanson's 3 gave the North Stars their biggest lead of the night at 8-2.
The first of Patel's 3-point baskets tied the game at 15. A 3-point play from Quinten Payne helped the North Stars take a 19-18 lead to the second quarter.
Payne's 3 put the North Stars up 24-19 and gave the Loyola-bound senior 11 points. But the Mustangs made it a point not to lose him again, and he scored just 2 points over the final 20 minutes.
"It's been our staple all year, we've got to defend to win especially going into this part of the season," Vozza said. "I thought St. Charles North came out with a lot of energy, Payne hit some big shots for them, and our guys locked down after that."
The Mustangs closed the half on a 14-2 run to lead 33-26 at halftime as the North Stars didn't score from the field for the final five minutes. Derek Coleman came up with a steal and assist on Bryson Oliver's layup, then Patel nailed a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left in the half to cap the run.
"It was real uncharacteristic of us," North Stars coach Tom Poulin said. "We've done a good job closing out quarters. Just lackadaisical, not focused, but that was just that one stretch. Overall the kids played hard. They (Metea) are good."
The Mustangs, who made 6 field goals in all four quarters to shoot 24 for 49 from the field to the North Stars' 20 for 55, led 46-41 after three quarters.
A 3-pointer from Jack Callaghan followed by a bucket from Chris Preocanin got the North Stars within 48-46. After a scramble for a loose ball Taylor was able to score while being fouled for a 3-pont play, and Patel, Sean Davis, Connor Archey and Taylor again all had baskets down the stretch to seal the win.
Payne (13 points), Swanson (11) and Alec Goetz (10 points all in the second half) reached double figures while Preocanin played big minutes off the bench and finished with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
"He (Preocanin) makes us a completely different team going forward next week having a 6-8 kid who is active and long and can block shots and get on the glass," Poulin said.
"We've been playing very, very well. This was a competitive game. I liked the way we started and we're going to remain positive as we go forward for next week."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.