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Neuqua Valley's Elijah Robertson dunks against East Aurora on Saturday, February 2, 2013, at Neuqua Valley. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Turning in perhaps one of its best defensive performances of the year less than 24 hours earlier against Bartlett, much was still on the line for Neuqua Valley with East Aurora on the docket.
Avoiding a letdown coming off Friday’s win, No. 17 Neuqua Valley used a 17-5 third-quarter spurt to cruise to a 54-30 victory over East Aurora on Saturday night in Naperville.
Up just six points at halftime, the Wildcats scored the first six points out of the break and eventually opened the second half on a 10-2 run, prompting East Aurora to take a timeout with its deficit sitting at 14 points and 2:28 left in the third.
Behind the exploits of two of its senior leaders in guard Jabari Sandifer and forward Darien Miskel, who combined for 24 of the Wildcats’ 54 points on the night, the bulge was 36-18 entering the final quarter.
“We just came out [strong in the third]. We weren’t scoring too much in the first half, so we had to come out strong for the second half,” said Sandifer, who had seven of his game-high 12 points in the third. “We weren’t playing as we are capable to [in the first half] and [the Tomcats] were getting some easy shots, so we just eliminated that and started scoring and we were good.”
Ten different guys scored on the night for Neuqua Valley (22-2, 10-1 Upstate Eight Valley), with the Western Illinois-bound Sandifer and Miskel leading the way with 12 points apiece, and its lead rose to as big as 26 points late in the game.
“We weren’t really comfortable with our lead [at halftime]. We wanted to make it bigger and the third quarter; [Sandifer and I] both really came out aggressive to push the lead up and make us comfortable,” said Miskel, who had half of his 12 points in the third.
With the victory, the Wildcats officially clinched at least a share of their first-ever Upstate Eight Valley crown and can clinch it outright with a victory at home over South Elgin next Saturday or with a Metea Valley loss to Waubonsie Valley that same night.
“I guess we did [Saturday] night. Never thought about that,” said Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton, who has led the program to seven conference titles in the team’s 15-year history.
Coming out of halftime only down six after falling down 7-0 to start the game, East Aurora (3-20, 1-9 Upstate Eight Valley) settled in and got as close as four points late in the first half by trying to slow the game down.
But the Tomcats just couldn’t find an answer for either Sandifer or Miskel.
“I think we had a couple key turnovers because we tried to stay with the same game plan that we had the first half of slowing the tempo and taking care of the ball and getting good shots,” East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries said. “But we had a couple killer turnovers where like [a] pick-six in football where they got steals and finishes and we couldn’t play defense. Then, all of a sudden, against a team that good—when you get down double digits, it’s hard to stick to the same game plan.”
Kejuan Davis, DeJon Talbert and Bryson McAlister each had six points for the Tomcats.