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Notre Dame claims Hardwood title
By Larry Weindruch | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 12/30/2012 12:07 AM

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Notre Dame found a way to deal with Niles North’s pressure defense and came away with a 54-52 victory Saturday in the championship game of the Wheeling Wildcat Hardwood Classic.

The teams played with the intensity of a sectional final, with Notre Dame nursing small leads through most of the second half.

“We played Niles North in the sectional a couple of years ago, and it was the same kind of game,” Notre Dame coach Tom Les said. “It was a good, hard aggressive game, well played, well coached and well officiated.”

The Dons (13-1) led by as many as 6 points in the fourth quarter, but Niles North’s all-tournament duo of Malachi Nix and Lorenzo Dillard brought the Vikings within a single point, 53-52 when Dilliard split a pair of free throws with 20.5 seconds remaining.

Notre Dame all-tournament point guard Jake Maestranzi split a pair of free throws with 11.4 seconds left to give the Dons their final lead, and then it was their turn to crank up the defensive pressure on Niles North.

The Vikings (10-3) were unable to get a clean look at the basket, and Dillard’s desperation 3-point shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

“Jake did a great job,” Les said. “If you’re not good with the ball, they disrupt you.”

Niles North controlled the early play and led 18-10 after the first quarter. Nix scored 7 of his game-high 17 points in the first quarter.

“They took it to us in the first quarter,” said Notre Dame coach Tom Les. “We started to play better in the second quarter. The same thing happened (Friday) against Naperville Central.”

A 3-pointer by Maestranzi late in the second quarter gave Notre Dame a 26-25 lead at halftime.

The winner of the tournament’s Outstanding Player Award, Matt Mooney, led the Dons with 14 points, and Maestranzi and Duante Stephens each scored 12.