AURORA — This winter, Aurora boys basketball has been all about pushing the tempo and turning defense into offense.
That said, Woodridge has had no problem pushing the accelerator this year, but it was a change in tempo that allowed the Bulldogs to win their 11th straight game.
Woodridge switched to a zone defense in the third quarter, which led to a 15-0 run. That spurt proved to be the difference in a 74-61 win over the Greenmen Tuesday at Aurora.
Woodridge improved to 17-4 on the season, while Aurora dropped to 9-10.
"We knew they were going to try to dictate the pace and it was our job to not let them," said Bulldogs coach Ric Blevins. "We came out in a zone [in the third quarter] to just see if it would work later. It worked so well we stayed in it. We did a fantastic job of making sure they didn’t have any looks except contested 3s."
Aurora coach T.J. Henderson expected the zone, but his team didn’t react well to it.
"We really rely on our defense and we stopped rotating," Henderson said. "We stopped moving and were a little stagnant in our offense. The way [Woodridge] played in the first half, they did a great job adjusting."
Aurora started the contest on a 7-0 run, but the Bulldogs never let things get out of hand. Despite Aurora guard Gabe Elsawy hitting a pair of 3s, Aurora’s lead was only 18-16 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, Woodridge forward Josh Decker caught fire,putting up 13 of his team game-high 17 points in the quarter. Decker hit three 3s in the quarter, including one right before the buzzer to give Woodridge a 35-34 halftime lead.
"It’s not ever just one person who leads us," Blevins said. "It’s a different person every time. Josh did some great work."
To open the second half, Aurora guard Ethan Hays connected on two quick layups to cut it to 35-34
That’s when the run began for Woodridge. Keyed by a pair of 3-pointers from guard Joe Mihalik and excellent defense, the Bulldog ran off 15 straight points.
Thanks to that run, Aurora trailed 53-38 after three quarters and trailed by 18 points when Woodridge’s Josh Fleming opened the fourth quarter with a 3-point play.
"We stumbled a little bit and started making some decisions that were not the right ones for us," Henderson said.
Aurora attempted to claw back into the game. Back-to-back 3s by Elsay and Hays cut the advantage to eight with under three minutes left and another 3-pointer from Justin Gentile cut the lead to 66-59 with 1:55 left.
However, Aurora would get no closer as the Bulldogs went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the last two minutes to ice the game.
Woodridge’s D.J. Snyder had 17 points and forward Elijah Arnett had 13 points and nine rebounds in the win, while Hays had 16 points and Elsawy had 12 for the Greenmen.
"That’s the fourth Suburban League team we’ve played this season," Blevins said. "I think the Suburban’s a bit better basketball league than we are. These are the games we need to play."
Woodridge will close out the regular season Friday at Akron Springfield at 7:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Aurora has a busy end to its season. The Greenmen will host Copley Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Chargrin Falls Saturday at 7:30 p.m. before closing the regular season next Tuesday at Nordonia at 7:30 p.m.
Henderson said he wasn’t worried about his team’s legs heading into the final stretch.
"We have been running all year long," Henderson said. "We will take practice a certain way for the next two days. That way, we can do what we need to do."