ELGIN – Wheaton North's boys basketball team was looking forward to the challenge of playing an undefeated team in Neuqua Valley Wednesday.
The Falcons walked away after a 67-51 loss in the Elgin Tournament semifinals with a clear understanding of the team they hope to become this season.
Neuqua dominated in all facets and withstood a late Wheaton North charge to advance to the finals against Elgin. Wheaton North will play for third place against Rockford Auburn Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
"I think we take it like that's the type of team, an undefeated team, one of the top teams in the area, we want to get to that point," Wheaton North coach Jim Nazos said. "For a lot of the second half, we were at that point. I think we can take it away and say that this is what we need to go do get to where we need to be."
By the time the Falcons (7-5) got their bearings, Neuqua (12-0) had already roared to a 46-25 lead early in the third quarter. Twelve early points in the paint from Alex Karkazis and four second quarter three-pointers established Neuqua's inside-out game and left Wheaton North scrambling the rest of the night.
"I thought we were a step behind in a lot of ways, in the perimeter and in the post," Nazos said. "They're a very good team. They can shoot it, they can score inside. I just thought we were a step off the whole first half."
After falling behind by 21 points, outside shooting helped Wheaton North make a late run. The Falcons cut the lead to 56-48 with 5:47 left in the fourth, thanks in large part to three three-pointers from Jeff Schalk and two from Jordan Wayhart. But Neuqua responded with an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach.
"We came out back on our heels and that's what set the entire game for us, those first couple of possessions," Schalk said. "As a team, in the second half, we were playing back how we were yesterday (in a win over Buffalo Grove). We put the first half behind us and kind of jumped on them."
Schalk led the way with 19 for Wheaton North, with Mike Fitzpatrick adding 12 points.
Despite the loss, Schalk still thinks the Falcons emerged from it learning a lesson.
"The whole thing is that we have to come out quick," Schalk said. "With a slow start like that, you'll never catch up. You saw the fire we came out with in the second half. If we can play like that all the time, we're a great team. If we have a slow start, it will hurt us every time."