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Aurora Christian's Johnathan Harrell scores between Joliet Catholic defenders Jimmy Elias and Ryan Peter during the 2nd annual Burney Wilkie Classic on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
While trying to integrate three players fresh off Aurora Christian’s football state championship over the weekend — with a new coach in Pat McNamara — the one constant early in the season has to be defense.
With the offense still not hitting on all cylinders against Joliet Catholic at the Burnie Wilkie Tournament Wednesday, the Eagles relied on their defense in a 52-40 win to improve to 2-0 on the season.
Aurora Christian outrebounded the Hillmen and senior Ryan McQuade, one of the football players working into basketball shape, stood in for an astounding six charges — taking the physical pounding without the use of his football pads.
“The defense was great,” McNamara said. “The pressure on the guards was great. Ryan McQuade is unbelievable, six charges in one game. That’s a legitimate six, too. I thought every one of them was a charge. The defense saved it for us. We’re just not in the flow yet offensively. I think that will come.”
McQuade, Ryan Suttle and Cory Windle didn’t get much time with the basketball team while concentrating on football over the summer and have had only two full practices since Friday’s state championship, but all played extensive minutes off the bench. McNamara expects them all to be starters eventually. The trio combined for 15 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a block in the win.
“It will take a while for them to figure out what I’m looking for,” McNamara said. “But they are working hard and they’re very unselfish. They pass the ball well. Just kind of disjointed offensively, that’s the only thing we have to work on.”
Joliet Catholic (0-2) tied the game at 12-12 at the 6:45 mark of the second quarter before the Eagles (2-0) were able to get some separation before the half, as three-pointers from Windle and Haydn McNelis pushed the lead to 28-18.
Windle started the fourth quarter with a dunk off a steal to spark an 11-4 run. He also added a layup, McQuade scored four points and McNelis hit a three in that run, pushing the lead to 51-35.
“I thought we scrapped all game,” JCA coach Joe Gura said. “We made it difficult for them to score. They had to work at it. If we would have shot a little better, we had some looks that we didn’t score. That’s a good ball club. Aurora Christian has weapons.”
Jimmy Elias led the Hillmen with 14 points.
While the focus was on the football players’ return, star junior Johnathan Harrell put together a solid all-around game despite battling foul trouble for the Eagles. He scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out three assists and had four steals and two blocks in the win.
After a day off, the Eagles host St. Edward Friday at 7:30 p.m. as they continue tournament play.
“If we get our defense down, we have enough talent for offense and we can do what we want on offense,” Harrell said. “We feel great right now, all the chemistry and good hard work. If we keep working like this, we’ll be going pretty far.”