Youcef Merabet doesn’t fear much.
As someone who has risen to prominence late this season for Naperville North, the bigger the moment doesn’t appear to be too much for the diminutive senior.
The spark Merabet provided in the third quarter Friday against Wheaton North will be remembered for a long time in Huskies’ lore.
Merabet scored nine of his 13 points in the third, helping fourth-seeded Naperville North post a 77-72 victory over sixth-seeded Wheaton North in the Class 4A Hinsdale Central Sectional Final.
Down five points at halftime, he knew something had to change – the Huskies had to start probing the paint.
“It was really big for us,” he said. “A lot of our guards – we weren’t hitting the shots we usually hit. So, you know, we just decided we had to attack the rim and we can’t settle for threes. So that’s what I did. Whenever I had an opening, I just took it and luckily I finished.”
Naperville North (25-5) – on a 19-1 roll in its last 20 games – faces Bolingbrook (28-1) in DeKalb, with the winner heading to Peoria for the state semifinals.
Mitch Lewis – one of three three-year seniors on a team that has laid claim to the program’s first sectional title since 1997-98 – appreciates the journey.
“My sophomore year, I wasn’t even in the regional championship and I was playing West Aurora,” he said. “It’s just nice to see how much we can climb and keep on going and make history at North, as well, too.”
All night long, the two teams went back and forth in refusing to give one another a single inch.
The first half alone saw the lead exchange hands 17 times. The second half offered much more of the same as the lead switched 16 times.
Lewis, the Miami of Ohio-bound tight end, recorded his eighth 20-point game of the season with a team-high 21 points.
But he received plenty of help with Tom Welch (18), Merabet (13) and Chris Johnson (11) joining him in double figures.
That quartet helped the Huskies deal with the fact both Rowen McGowen and Luke Anthony went for a game-high 24 points for the Falcons (24-7).
McGowen’s first miss of the game came with 1:07 left to play in regulation and the Huskies up one point at 73-72 following a basket from Johnson.
McGowen had hit his first six three-pointers of the game but was kept scoreless during the fourth while Anthony tallied 13 points in the second half.
“It was so nice,” Johnson said. “(McGowen) was absolutely unbelievable throughout the game. It felt like every shot he took went in. We’re just thinking, ‘He’s got to miss one eventually.’ But he didn’t. I think Mitch (Lewis) got a good wall up on there and it kind of just went a little short.”