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Basketball wins first sectional title in 19 years, plays Tuesday for a chance at state

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Huskies, net in hand, posing with the trophy

Huskies, net in hand, posing with the trophy

Huskies, net in hand, posing with the trophy

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In a feat not seen since before the class of 2017 was born, the Naperville North boys basketball team won their first IHSA sectional championship since 1998, beating Wheaton North 77-72, behind 21 points from Mitch Lewis and 18 offensive rebounds as a team.

The game was a high-scoring, back and forth affair that saw the lead change hands numerous times. Wheaton North’s Luke Anthony and Rowan McGowan were the game’s leading scorers dropping 24 points a piece. Mitch Lewis once again came up big for the Huskies, scoring 21 points. However, it was a balanced attack that aided Naperville North in the victory, as four players finished in double digits.

“McGowan and Anthony are fantastic players, said Lewis, “They surely could not miss and were both warriors on the court.”

The game started off with rapid pace as the Falcons held a 20-19 lead over the Huskies. Anthony and McGowan were hot from three-point range, sparking the Wheaton North offense. However, they could not pull away as the Huskies used their offensive rebounds to collect second chance points. Already, the game looked like it would be a high-intensity affair all the way to the finish.

The second quarter began slower as both teams struggled to find their offense, and ran into some early foul trouble.  The effects of the second quarter foul trouble were felt by the Huskies, as Wheaton North built a 39-34 halftime lead while Lewis sat down with two fouls. Coach Powers elaborated on how the strategy changed for the Huskies coming out of halftime.

“We just got to stop them from making the easy threes and we got to concentrate on stopping penetration,” said Powers. “It’s going to get down to no more offensive rebounds, which they had a lot of.”

The third quarter was a different story, as both teams continued exchanging rapid fire baskets. Youcef Merabet scored nine of his 13 points in third quarter for Naperville North. The Falcons answered with Rowan McGowan, who was 7-7 from the field, with six of those being threes, and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line at the end of the third quarter. The Huskies battled back from a seven-point deficit and held a 58-57 lead, setting the stage for an epic fourth quarter.

“We knew we had depth and it was not hard to come back,” said Johnson, “If we get guys in, they are going to do their job.”

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Huskies had the momentum but had to stop Luke Anthony and Rowan McGowan to secure the win. They followed through, allowing only 15 points, Wheaton North’s lowest scoring quarter of the game, and gave up only one three-pointer. Anthony and McGowan struggled as well, with Anthony turning it over twice and McGowan not making a single basket in the quarter. The Huskies just barely avoided losing some of their key players as three players, Mitch Lewis, Chris Johnson and Cam Hardy, would end up with four fouls each.

“People always ask me why we play so many people and tonight’s a perfect reason why,” said Powers, “We get in foul trouble and then Cam, Youcef [Merabet], Winston [Elston] and Tabo [Tarun] come in and do great things. Guys are used to playing in big moments because we play everybody all year long.”

Powers’ halftime adjustments worked, as the Huskies only gave up two threes and one offensive rebound in the second half. But, the biggest difference for the Huskies was their work on the offensive glass. In total, the Huskies grabbed 18 offensive boards, 5 more than their amount of defensive rebounds in the game. Sophomore Tom Welch had an astounding eight offensive rebounds, in addition to 18 points and a big deflection and steal that ultimately led to the basket that sealed the deal for the Huskies.

“Our gameplan was just to play how we normally do, attack and dish,” said Welch.

Despite the loss, Wheaton North was one of four DVC teams to win a regional championship this year, along with Lake Park, Wheaton Warrenville South and of course Naperville North. Naperville North’s sectional championship is the 6th time in the last 7 years that a DVC team has won a sectional championship.

“The only way to get out of the DVC is to lose to another DVC team, so I think that says a lot about our conference,” said Powers.

For the 25-5 Naperville North Huskies, this group continues to stay alive, thanks to the intensity and fight of this senior-led team. Junior Chris Johnson spoke about the amazing leadership and camaraderie that this senior class brings to the table.

“On the court and off the court, they’re friends, they’re teammates and they’re family,” said Johnson.

Mitch Lewis also talked about how his three years of experience on varsity helped him to win this game.

“Coach Powers prepared us by putting Cam, Winston and myself on varsity since our sophomore year,” said Lewis, “His reasoning behind that was to get us ready for this moment.

The sectional championship also has significance for Coach Jeff Powers, who won a sectional title for the first time in his coaching career on Friday night.

Powers was in high spirits after the big victory.

“God is good and it’s great to be a Huskie,” said Powers.

The Huskies move on to the supersectional, which will be played Tuesday at Northern Illinois at 7:30 p.m. to face the Bolingbrook Raiders, who beat Joliet West to win the Lincoln-Way East Sectional.

 

Photo-slider by Jacob de Waard

Tyler Carlson introduced in the starting lineup

 

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Basketball wins first sectional title in 19 years, plays Tuesday for a chance at state