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Naperville North's Bryan LoLordo spins away from West Aurora defender Joshua McAuley Friday in Aurora. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Based on the previous meeting, expect another nail-biter Wednesday when West Aurora plays host to Glenbard East with a share of the DuPage Valley Conference title on the line.
The Rams prevailed 58-56 at home on Jan. 18, holding on for the win as a potential game-tying shot by the Blackhawks’ Jontrel Walker after a drive down the lane rolled off the rim as time expired.
“I think the second half was like a dogfight and we ended up making the last play,” a relieved Glenbard East coach Scott Miller said afterward.
The pressure is off his team in some respects because they were able to wrap up at least a share of the crown with Saturday’s win over Wheaton Warrenville South. Glenbard East is 12-1 in the league and 17-6 overall.
The teams had entered last weekend’s action tied at 10-1, but the Blackhawks dropped a two-point decision Friday at home to Naperville North before rebounding on Saturday to pummel West Chicago. It means West (20-5, 11-2) faces a must-win to claim a share of the title.
“I don’t think it’s gonna have any effect on how we approach the game, technically or mentally,” Blackhawks coach Gordie Kerkman said. “If we were tied (with Glenbard East) and had to win it outright, nothing changes. I don’t think the position has anything to do with our motivation.”
In other words, his team had better be motivated. How close was the last meeting?
West jumped out to a 10-2 lead to open the game, but the Rams’ 6-foot-2 guard Tahron Harvey got 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second quarter to lead East to a 34-30 advantage at the break.
Matt Williams’ second half defense on Harvey was a factor as the Blackhawks clawed their way back into it, tying it at 47-all on Josh McAuley’s 18-foot jumper with 5:05 remaining. It was a one-possession game the rest of the way.
Junior wing Jaron Hall added 16 points for the Rams and they needed every one of them, because the Blackhawks were holding 6-4 senior wing and three-year varsity starter Marvin Grant-Clark scoreless — a feat that’s unlikely to happen again.
Walker finished with 22 points to lead West, which got 12 more from McAuley to go with his seven rebounds and two blocked shots. The Blackhawk big man has 87 blocked shots (3.6 per game) this season, which is probably a school single-season record but there’s no way to verify it.
“In my experience, I think it is without question,” said veteran West broadcaster Neal Ormond, who goes back even further than Kerkman, who is in his 37th season as head coach.
“Certainly before my time and even in my early years, I doubt that’s a statistic we kept,” the veteran coach said.
While the number is nice, Kerkman wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it.
“I think (McAuley) can get carried away, like a lot of high school and even college and pro players do, in the way that he attempts to block shots and not think about the consequences,” Kerkman said, remembering an interview he once heard with NBA great Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics.
“Russell used to say he tried on his first block of the game to hit the ball into the stands,” Kerkman said. “After that, he tried to block it above his head. Josh is a little more immature right now than Bill Russell and (McAuley) tries to swat everything. What you have to realize is, when you do that, you’re swinging down and there’s a chance you’re going to hit the shooter’s arm on the way down (and draw a foul).”
And McAuley riding the bench with foul trouble, as the Blackhawks learned in the second half last Friday against Naperville North, is not a good place for them to be.