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Chandler Thomas (50) snares a rebound for West Aurora against Wheaton North. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Size does matter in basketball and that’s why West Aurora was able to make short work of Wheaton North in Friday’s 68-44 DuPage Valley Conference rout.
“It’s tough, especially when a lot of our size was limited,” said visiting Falcons’ coach Dave Brackman, who was without the services of 6-foot-11 Stetson University recruit Andrew Zelis in the first half and 6-6 sophomore Jake Heggeland for the game.
The Blackhawks took full advantage, claiming a 37-22 rebounding edge to key the win.
“It seemed like, as a team, we were getting a lot of rebounds,” said West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman.
Zelis entered the game with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter after serving the final two quarters of a 2 ½-game suspension for disciplinary reasons Brackmann said he couldn’t discuss. Heggeland sprained an ankle earlier in the day in gym class.
Zelis finished with a team-high 14 points but it was too little, too late for the Falcons, who trailed 45-18 when he entered.
Blackhawk senior center Josh McAuley led the way. He finished with game-highs of 22 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
The Blackhawks (19-4, 10-1) led 19-11 early in the second when McAuley keyed an 11-0 run over two-and-a-half minutes that erased any doubts about the outcome.
It started with his three-point play off a baseline drive and included a dunk on a sweet feed from forward Matt Williams in traffic on the baseline. The Blackhawks claimed a 19-3 advantage on the boards in the second quarter.
Early in the fourth, McAuley put an exclamation point on the win, swatting two straight shots from Wheaton North 6-foot senior guard Jaylen Howze out of bounds as he tried to drive to the basket and challenge the West big man.
“On one, he was at the top of the key and I said, ‘Don’t do it.’ He heard me and tried to drive the lane,” said McAuley, who knows Howze from AAU play and shared a laugh with him afterward. “Then, he said he should have passed it.”
West also got seven rebounds each from forward Chandler Thomas (10 points) and guard Jontrel Walker (seven points).
The Blackhawks were the good hands team in the first half, coming up with seven steals and eight assists on their 16 baskets as they took a 39-18 lead at the break. Jayquan Lee finished with four assists while Spencer Thomas had five steals. Every West starter had at least one steal.
“We didn’t sustain our energy and execution, especially in that second quarter run,” said Brackmann. “We knew coming in we had to control turnovers and rebound. We turned it over too many times and gave them easy opportunities.”