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Aurora Central's Mike O'Donnell hits a mid-range jump shot against Neuqua Valley High School, on Thursday, December 27, 2012 at the East Aurora High School Holiday Tournament, in Aurora IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Neuqua Valley senior Pat Kenny has been a teammate of Western Illinois-bound point guard Jabari Sandifer since seventh grade, so he’s become accustomed to keeping his head on a swivel.
“It’s tough when you start out at the beginning of the year, but you get used to it,” Kenny said of Sandifer’s creative passing.
Kenny and his teammates needed to be alert at all times in Thursday’s 66-46 win over Aurora Central Catholic in the second round of the 47th annual East Aurora Holiday Tournament, especially when Sandifer was on the court.
Sandifer only scored six points, but he dished out six assists and hauled down seven rebounds to set the tone for the No. 11 Wildcats. As a team, Neuqua had 18 assists on 27 made field goals and only turned the ball over 11 times.
“We had some real good passing, some post passing,” Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said. “Jabari was passing to everybody. I’m a big fan of his. I see it in practice all the time and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’”
It wasn’t easy early on as ACC (6-5) tied the game at 12-12 late in the first quarter. But Neuqua (12-0) went on a 17-2 run, keyed by all six of Sandifer’s points, to open a 29-14 lead, and the Wildcats never looked back.
“I thought we made some real good defensive stops,” Sutton said. “We got a quick lead as a result of some turnovers and we got some easy ones. That little run made a huge difference because it was a dogfight at 12-12.”
The rest of the game, Neuqua remained unselfish and wound up with only one player, Kenny (18 points, 10 rebounds) in double figures in scoring. All but one player on the Neuqua roster scored.
“We know that no matter who we pass it to, it’s a good player and we have no worries about the shot,” Kenny said. “We’re all confident in each other.”
Phil Schuetz led ACC with 16 points and seven rebounds. The Chargers have now lost three straight games heading into Friday’s third-round game against Geneva.
“They’re better than us, I’m not going to act like they aren’t,” ACC coach Nate Drye said. “I just wish we would have played better. We missed some shots. I’m not saying we would have won it, but we have to make shots and guys have to step up. When you get looks, you have to knock them down. I didn’t think we did that at all today.”
Neuqua heads into Friday’s showdown with defending Class 3A state champion Peoria with a spotless 12-0 mark on the season and two impressive wins in the tournament.
“It’s earned so far,” Kenny said. “We’re playing well. We’re playing hard. We know if we keep that up, we can expect good results. This is a tough tournament. The next two games will be really tough games, but I think we’re ready for that. I think we’ll do a good job.”