Unusual strategy works for Naperville North
The chess match inevitably became a basketball game.
Naperville North won both.
After dropping two regular-season meetings with Wheaton Warrenville South, the Huskies broke out a risky game plan and got the win that mattered most by beating the Tigers 45-40 in Tuesday's Class 4A Hinsdale Central sectional semifinals.
The game was dominated by Naperville North's strategy of purposely fouling the top-seeded Tigers (29-2) for much of the night - 32 fouls spread among 12 of the 13 players who saw court time. The Huskies subbed offense for defense and were content putting the Tigers in the super bonus with two minutes left in the first quarter and four minutes into the third.
That forced WW South into attempting 5 field goals the entire first half and 14 for the game. More important, the Tigers attempted just seven 3-pointers and made two.
Most important of all, though, WW South missed 15 of its 36 free-throw attempts including three of its final five. In the first two meetings the Tigers were a combined 14 of 26 on free throws and made 13 3-pointers.
"We only had a couple of days to learn it and we didn't even know if we were going to run it," said Huskies senior forward Mitch Lewis, who scored 12 of his game-high 16 points in the second half. "They play a game so we decided to throw a game right back at them."
Fourth-seeded Naperville North (24-5) advances to Friday's sectional final in search of its first sectional title since 1998. The Huskies face Wednesday's winner between No. 6 Wheaton North (23-6) and No. 10 Hinsdale South (19-11).
"We just tried to be very very aggressive early to get them maybe out holding the ball for 45 seconds," said Naperville North coach Jeff Powers. "We've got too many big guys. We didn't want to play defense for a minute and 15 seconds. So we'll let them shoot a couple free throws and then go the other way.
"The last two games they scored 39 out of their 76 points on 3-pointers," he said. "We weren't going to give them any 3-pointers today."
WW South took a 34-33 lead with 2:21 left when Parker Robinson split a pair of free throws. Naperville North closed by scoring 7 of the game's final 8 points.
After Chris Johnson saved a ball from going out of bounds, Lewis scored to put the Huskies ahead for good at 35-34. A missed WW South 3-pointer led to a pair of Johnson free throws and a 37-34 lead.
WW South was fouled on a 3-pointer but missed two of three free throws. Winston Elston split two free throws to boost Naperville North's lead to 38-35 with 15 seconds left.
WW South missed a pair of 3-pointers but still had possession with 0.7 seconds left. A turnover, however, gave the ball to Naperville North. Lewis drained a pair of free throws to ice the win.
"This was going to end no matter what in 11 days or whatever, and that's what bothers them the most," said Tigers coach Mike Healy, whose team won the outright DuPage Valley Conference title and tied a program record for wins in a season. "You find a story that's better than what our kids have done. They're unbelievably special."
Jake Healy led the Tigers with 14 points, knocking down a 3-pointer and hitting all 7 of his free-throw attempts. Johnson had 8 points and 6 rebounds for the Huskies.
WW South built a 6-point third-quarter lead but the Huskies closed the period with 7 straight points while taking advantage of 2-of-8 free-throw shooting by the Tigers.
"It was so hard to stay in rhythm because of going in and out," said Huskies senior guard Winston Elston. "But everyone was hitting shots and we finished it. After the first half it felt fine and we were ready to go."
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