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Those who score usually get all of the accolades in sports — especially basketball.
However, coaches love to look inside the game and get excited about the little things.
Take Naperville North senior center Rafee Mahmud. He did not score during the Huskies’ 59-45 win at Wheaton North on Friday night, but Huskies coach Jeff Powers was glowing about his defensive effort.
“The main part of this win today was — a lot of people did not see it — Rafee covering their big guys,” Powers said. “(Rafee) just did an outstanding job and forced (Wheaton North) into taking contested and forced shots with hands in their faces because Rafee denied the ball so well to their post players.”
The Huskies (14-6, 5-3 DVC) lack size and the Falcons (10-9, 2-6) feature a front line with Andrew Zelis, who stands 6-foot-11. Mahmud, at 6-foot-6, yielded more than a few inches to Zelis, but he held his own while finishing with five rebounds to Zelis’ three.
“My job is to keep up with the big men and try to defend them,” Mahmud said. “We change up our defenses each week based on the opponent. I have to stay out of foul trouble and it was hard, but I had to work my butt off to keep in front of Zelis.”
Mahmud and the Huskies also helped their cause by forcing Zelis into two quick fouls, which kept him on the bench for 11 minutes during the first half.
North broke the game open during the final three minutes of the first half as the Huskies closed on an 11-0 run to take a 30-20 halftime lead thanks to forcing turnovers and converting them into easy baskets.
Junior guard Anthony Rehayem led the spurt with a pair of 3-pointers and a basket, while freshman Jelani McClain (8 points) had a pair of steals and he turned one of them into a conventional three-point play opportunity.
“Our defense led to our offense,” Mahmud said. “We got stops and steals, which we turned into points on the other end. We were able to push the ball and get some easy baskets.”
The Huskies maintained their lead after the break as they were patient on offense, which made Falcons work on defense while they were playing catchup on the scoreboard.
North was methodical on offense and it paid off as the Huskies made 10-of-18 shots in the second half.
“(Being efficient on offense) is important for us because we are smaller team,” Powers said. “The less time that we have to try and defend and rebound it, the better. We emphasize ballhandling, passing and moving, so we have to be patient on offense.”
Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann said all of North’s ball movement took a toll on the Falcons.
“They are deliberate,” he said. “They wear you down a little bit. Then next thing you know you are getting beat off the dribble and a shooter is open. They really spread you out and make you help from far away. We were late quite a few times on our defensive rotations.”
It was a disappointing way for the Falcons to start off the second half of conference play as they came in having won four of five games.
“We just had too many stretches where we lacked toughness,” Brackmann said. “The next step is for us to step up and beat a team like Naperville North — that caliber of a team. Hopefully through the second half we can step up, but we’re not there yet.”
Derek Westman paced North with 17 points, Rehayem added 13 while Bryan LoLordo added 12 points. Matt Biegalski led the Falcons with 11, while Jaylen Howze scored 10 before fouling out.
Both teams have quick turnarounds with each hosting a conference game on Tuesday night.