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West Aurora's Roland Griffin tries to dribble around Wheaton North's John Coolidge on Friday, December 21, 2012 at Wheaton North High School in Wheaton IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

Holding a slim four-point halftime lead at Wheaton North Friday, West Aurora boys basketball coach Gordie Kerkman implored his team to step up its defensive intensity.

In the second half, the Blackhawks got the message.

They forced nine third-quarter turnovers, helping turn a close game into a comfortable 68-52 DuPage Valley Conference win.

“At halftime, our coaches got up on us and told us to get going,” West junior guard Jontrel Walker said. “We just got all over them and picked up our intensity. We had a lot of fans there and we didn’t want to let them down. We just came out and played hard tonight.”

The first half was back and forth, but West (7-1, 4-0 DVC) ended the half on a modest 8-3 run, with two putbacks from reserve Matt Williams sandwiched around a pair of driving layups from Walker.

But in the third quarter, the Blackhawks came out strong. A 10-0 run started by the Thomas brothers — a putback from Spencer and a jumper from Chandler — and two three-point plays from center Josh McAuley suddenly gave West a 45-31 lead with 2:29 left in the third. Wheaton North (3-3, 1-3) never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.

“I thought they played really well in the first half,” Kerkman said of Wheaton North. “We had to put a little more pressure on them, which we did. A lot of our turnovers came from backside pressure. When you put pressure on people, they don’t pass the ball as well.”

When Wheaton North cut it to 56-47 in the fourth on a Mitch Vosberg three-pointer, the Blackhawks closed the game out on a 12-5 run to put it away.

Wheaton North’s 6-foot-11 center, Andrew Zelis, paced the Falcons with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Matt Biegalski added 10 points. McAuley held his own against Zelis in the post, scoring 13 points to go with four blocked shots.

Walker led all scorers with 22 points for West. Spencer Thomas added 14 despite missing most of the first half in foul trouble. Chandler Thomas scored 10 points.

West now prepares for the rugged Pontiac tournament. The Blackhawks open against Lockport. A win would pit them against either St. Charles North or Waukegan, with a potential semifinal matchup against Peoria Manual lurking beyond that.

“We’re very excited,” Walker said. “We feel confident, but we can’t be too cocky or anything like that. We have to come out ready to play.”

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