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Chandler Thomas (middle) slaps the ball toward Blackhawk teammate Jayquan Lee (left) after stripping it from Michael Kramer (on floor) of Wheaton Warrenville South. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Of all the things Gordon Kerkman has taught his players during his 37 years as head coach at West Aurora, humility has to be high up on the list in importance.
He demonstrated that again this week in his typically understated way by not informing the Blackhawks that he was on the verge of a milestone victory.
Kerkman recorded his 750th victory Friday night when West Aurora knocked off Wheaton Warrenville South 62-48 in DuPage Valley Conference action in Wheaton.
“Actually, I didn’t even know he had that many wins,” West Aurora center Josh McAuley said. “I knew he had somewhere around there, but it’s a big achievement to play for one of the greatest coaches of all time.”
McAuley played a starring role in the historic win, making seven straight baskets in the first half en route to a team-leading 18 points. He would have had two more if Kerkman hadn’t called timeout while his 6-7 center was in the middle of swishing another jumper.
“He would have had 20 points if I hadn’t called timeout,” Kerkman said. “That’s the second time I’ve done that this year.”
But Kerkman, whose record is 750-295, had better luck with the timeout he called just two minutes into the contest after the host Tigers (5-14, 1-8) scored the first 10 points of the game.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play at the beginning of the game and then Coach called the first timeout and got on us,” McAuley said. “We knew we had to put it on them after that.
“He said our defense was terrible and we’re not moving the ball enough on offense. Once we did all that, we came out with a win.”
McAuley started the comeback with a steal that led to a layup by Jontrel Walker, and his baseline jumper with 6:12 left in the second quarter tied the score at 15-15. McAuley then put the Blackhawks (15-3, 7-1) ahead to stay, 19-17, with a putback two minutes later and finished the first half with 14 points, most of which came on pretty turnaround jumpers from 12-15 feet.
“We know in the zone the middle is always open, so it’s not really a goal for me to get the jump shot, but if it happens, it happens,” said McAuley, who also had seven rebounds and four blocks. “It happened [tonight] and it actually worked.
“I’ve always been a jump shooter so Coach gives me a green light to shoot, so I try to take advantage of that as much as I can.”
He wasn’t the only one. Walker, who scored 12 of his 16 points after intermission, opened the third quarter by sinking back-to-back three-pointers to give West Aurora a 37-25 lead.
But the Tigers went on an 11-1 run to cut the gap to 38-36 on a basket by Michael Kramer at the 2:48 mark of the period. Kramer finished with a game-high 20 points, including three treys, and 10 rebounds, but he didn’t get much help.
Matt Kienzle scored 14 points for the Tigers, including four threes, but was 2-for-8 from the floor in the second half as the Blackhawks started chasing more on the perimeter.
“I think we were a little passive in the way we were playing them defensively,” Kerkman said. “They didn’t make shots against us last time and I think [the Blackhawks] thought the same thing was going to happen this time.
“I thought they were very good shooters. They hit a couple [threes in the second half] but when you make the shooters run their legs get tired in the fourth quarter. They started coming up short.”
Indeed, after pulling within 45-43 on a layup by Kramer late in the third quarter, the Tigers were outscored 17-5 the rest of the way.
Spencer Thomas had nine points and four steals for West Aurora, while Matt Williams came off the bench to score all eight of his points in the second half. Jayquan Lee chipped in five points, nine assists and three steals and Chandler Thomas added six points and five boards.
So has Kerkman thought about what reaching 750 wins means?
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “It just means that we can keep pace with Glenbard East [in the DVC race].”