Naperville North avenges Neuqua loss, ties for DVC lead

A lot has changed for Naperville North and junior Grant Montanari since the last time the Huskies played Neuqua Valley.

Naperville North's defense has continued to get better and better since that Dec. 2 outing and varsity newcomer Montanari's role with the team has gotten bigger and bigger. In Friday's key DuPage Valley Conference contest in Naperville, both that defense and the junior's play shined as the Huskies won 47-35.

The stat line might not jump off the page, but Montanari came up big on several plays as the hosts avenged a 59-42 loss that had opened up the DVC season. He scored 6 points, pulled in 8 rebounds, had a trio of steals and took a charge in the second half to help hold off a Wildcats team that entered the night 16-5 overall and in first place at 4-1 in the DVC.

"We really worked hard in practice, we had a lot of good practices," said Montanari, who also helped the Huskies limit St. Charles North to just 20 points in a win on Tuesday. "We played as a team."

When asked what was different about the second showdown with Neuqua Valley, he responded: "We've obviously gotten a lot better throughout the year. Our defense has really responded a lot."

When the same question was posed to Wildcats coach Todd Sutton, he said, "We made shots [the first time]. We didn't make many tonight. That's the best zone in the state."

The Huskies led 24-19 at the close of a defensive first half and then held Neuqua to just four points in the third quarter. When Montanari took a great feed from Jack Kallstrand to finish a layup as the third-quarter horn sounded, Naperville North (14-9, 4-2) led 34-23 and was well on its way to drawing even with Neuqua Valley atop a crowded DVC standings.

"The guys have dug in to get stops defensively. We want defense to be the backbone of our program and our kids have really shown that, especially recently," Huskies coach Gene Nolan said. "I'm proud of their effort. Neuqua is a great team ... the league is kind of beating each other up ... to beat a team like Neuqua we're very fortunate."

Guard Luke Williams opened the game hot for the Huskies, sinking a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 10 of his game-high 17 points in the first quarter. Jacob Nolen and Cole Arl each added 8 points, with Nolen hitting a pair of 3s in the second half and Arl tallying 6 points in the final quarter as the Huskies closed out the win.

Williams appreciated Montanari's big effort on Friday.

"He's athletic. He always has his hands up and he gets deflections. He really helps us get steals and his offensive and defensive rebounding is great," Williams said. "Defensively getting after it ... defense is where we were at today."

Luke Kinkade paced the Wildcats with 11 points but had a hard time getting good looks at the basket against Naperville North's defense. Colin Gerrity did provide a spark off the bench for the visitors with 9 points and 3 assists.

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