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Elgin's Arie Williams shoots a jump shot Thursday at East Aurora. | Sean King~For Sun-Times Media
Elgin had a difficult time putting East Aurora away during Thursday’s Upstate Eight Conference crossover in Aurora.
The Maroons also had a tough time at the charity stripe.
It nearly cost them, but the Maroons got a pair of free throws from Ryan Sitter with 16 seconds left and a final defensive stand on East Aurora’s ensuing possession to hold on for a 58-55 victory.
Sitter’s free throws allowed the Maroons to extend their 56-55 lead.
“I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I was confident, I was really nervous there,” Sitter said. “I knew we missed free throws all game and I didn’t want to be another kid who missed free throws and have another reason to run in practice.”
East Aurora (4-22) was able to stay in the game because of Elgin’s woes from the line. The Maroons made just 2-of-12 in the first half and only led 25-21 at intermission.
“We hung in there because they didn’t shoot free throws. They missed a lot of shots,” East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries said. “We made a ton of mistakes but stayed in the game. I was amazed we were still in the game at the start of the fourth quarter.”
The Tomcats took their first lead at 53-52 when Jonathan Villezcas converted a layup off a turnover with 2:09 remaining, but Kiko Mari made an easy layup 20 seconds later. Villezcas followed with another easy basket and Mari did the same as both teams suffered defensive lapses and a bit of déjà vu.
“Two times we got the lead and our defense let us down,” Jeffries said. “We didn’t play good defense.”
After Sitter converted his free throws, the Tomcats had a difficult time finding a good shot for the game-tying three. Ultimately, Villezcas clanked an attempt off the front of the rim, securing the victory for Elgin (13-13).
“We couldn’t put it away early,” Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. “A lot of times (this season) it’s been like that where at halftime we’re over .500 (record). It’s just a matter of not being able to put a team away.”
Arie Williams was the lone Elgin player to score in double figures, but his output was substantial, finishing with a game-high 27 points. Elgin only made 9-of-23 free throws.
Villezcas led four Tomcats in double figures with 14 points. He also had 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. DeJon Talbert, Kejuan Davis and Tyree Willis each scored 11 points.
Both teams begin play in the Class 4A playoffs on Monday. Elgin will take on a Streamwood team that it has already beaten twice in the South Elgin Regional. East Aurora, which lost 94-56 and 63-45 to Metea Valley, will get the Mustangs again in the Oswego East Regional.