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Huskies pull off overtime upset against No. 2 Evanston

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Let’s just say the Naperville North boys basketball team does not care about odds. Entering Saturday’s game in the “When Sides Collide Shootout” at Glenbard East High School, the Huskies were faced with an uphill battle against the #2 team in the state, the Evanston Wildkits.

Led by senior Nojel Eastern, who is #77 in the ESPN 100 and committed to Purdue, the Wildkits had only lost two games thus far, both coming against teams from out-of-state. Things only became tougher by halftime as the Huskies were down by double-digits and had lost their starting point guard in the first quarter. Yet, the Huskies did not fold; they went all in.

Naperville North got off to a good start in the first quarter, holding the lead early before Chris Sullivan suffered a leg injury with 3:41 to go in the first quarter. Sullivan had to be helped off of the court and did not play again. The timetable for his return is four to six weeks. Despite losing their starting point guard, the Huskies stayed close, only down 13-12 at the end of the quarter.

The second quarter provided an opportunity for someone to step up after Sullivan went down, and Youcef Merabet did just that. Merabet scored all eight points for the Huskies in the quarter, but the Wildkits pounced, taking a 32-20 lead into halftime.

“I said again to the guys that we belonged here and all we had to do was handle the pressure,” said Naperville North Coach Jeff Powers,  “We made an adjustment to playing man-to-man on the three-point line because we gave up too many threes in our matchup zone.”

The second half provided a dramatic rollercoaster ride for both teams. The Huskies came roaring back in the third, tying the game at 40 with 1:54 to go in the quarter. But, the Wildkits finished the quarter on 7-0 run, distancing themselves from the Huskies’ comeback.

Down seven, the Huskies went on a 9-2 run, tying the game at 49 with 5:53 to go in regulation. With 25 seconds left the Wildkits trailed 55-54. Eastern missed a one-and-one opportunity, giving Merabet and the Huskies the ball. Evanston still had a foul to give and sent Mitch Lewis to the free throw line for two shots. Lewis made one of two, giving life to the Wildkits. With seven seconds to go, Evanston forward Lance Jones was fouled in the act of shooting. Jones missed both shots, and on the latter, the ball was knocked out of bounds by the Huskies. With two seconds left, Eastern put up a shot and missed, but was fouled. He proceeded to knock down two big free throws to tie the game at 56 and send it into overtime.

In overtime, the Huskies were able to stay ahead, thanks to Eastern making only five of his eight free throw shots in the extra frame. After Eastern went one for two from the line, Naperville North’s Chris Johnson was fouled with 12 seconds left. Johnson, only a 50% free throw shooter, made them when it counted, knocking down both making it 64-61. On the other end, Merabet fouled Eastern with ten seconds left. Eastern hit both free throws, two of his 27 points on the night. Sophomore Tom Welch was fouled on the ensuing inbounds. Welch, also a 50% free throw shooter, made one of two, extending the Huskies lead to 65-63 with 10 seconds to play. Out of a timeout, it became clear to everyone in the gymnasium who would take the last shot, Nojel Eastern. Eastern’s contested layup was no good at the buzzer and Naperville North stormed the court.

The difference in the game was Youcef Merabet’s 20 points off of the bench. His performance came only one night after leading the team with nine points against Waubonsie Valley.

“It’s the moment I had been waiting for, the moment I wanted,” said Merabet, “And luckily my teammates helped me out and I was fortunate enough to play well.”

Evanston (16-3, 4-0) suffered their first in-state loss of the season and fell to 8th in the Chicago Tribune Preps rankings.

The Huskies (13-4, 7-2 in the DVC) are warming up at the right time, and have three straight DVC games coming up. They are trailing the 19-1 Wheaton-Warrenville South Tigers by two games for the conference title.

“We’ve got our work to do,” said Powers, “Our guys decided we’re gonna take one game at a time and try to play our best effort each time.”

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Huskies pull off overtime upset against No. 2 Evanston