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Men’s Basketball: Short-handed AU prevails in tournament

AurorUniversity's KalmStokes puts up shot draws contact from Benedictine University's Luke JohnsSaturday Aurora. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

Aurora University's Kalmon Stokes puts up a shot and draws contact from Benedictine University's Luke Johnson Saturday in Aurora. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 18, 2013 6:55AM

Not many teams could do what Aurora University’s men’s basketball team did Saturday afternoon.

Playing without three key juniors, the Spartans still cruised to an 87-67 victory over Benedictine University in the quarterfinals of the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament.

Starting guards Marious Lobdell and Jordan Hester, along with reserve Marquis Lobdell, were suspended Wednesday for the remainder of the season for violations of team and university rules.

Seniors Esteban Vega and Mark Adams were pressed into the starting lineup and both came up with huge games.

Vega ran the offense at point guard and finished with 17 points (all in the second half) to go with nine assists and, remarkably, no turnovers.

“The first half I tried to get the team involved, that’s what I try to do when I’m out there,” Vega said. “I saw my shot wasn’t falling (the first 20 minutes) so I went to passing.”

Adams was equally amazing. He led all scorers with 20 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds.

There was plently of help. Senior Mike Bumber finished with 14 points, freshman Kalmon Stokes had 16 points and junior Scott Laskowski added 13 points.

Vega, normally the first guard off the bench for the 20-6 Spartans, played 31 minutes while Adams, another key reserve all season long, led AU with 32 minutes played.

“What helped me a lot was that I started half the season last year,” Vega said.

“My mindset the last couple days was that I didn’t want this to be my last game. I’m a senior and I wanted to go out on top. ”

AU never trailed the Eagles (8-18) and opened up an 18-point (57-41) on a fastbreak basket by Vega with 15 minutes left.

BU, to its credit, battled back. The Eagles used a 7-0 run to cut the Spartans lead to eight (58-50) on a basket in the lane by Raphael Oglesby with 12:31 remaining.

The Eagles would get no closer.

Laskowski started a clinching 13-2 run by hitting two free throws as AU jumped out to a 71-52 lead with 5:53 left. The run was punctuated by a two-handed jam by Stokes off a missed shot.

Benedictine was left with no more answers.

As it turned out, the three suspended players weren’t missed.

“They are three of the best players on the team (but) I feel we’re deep enough to win our conference (tournament),” Vega said. “It feels good to not have any turnovers because, as a point guard, you have the ball in your hands all the time.”

Vega’s play was just one of many head coach James Lancaster needed and received.

“I was proud of all the guys,” Lancaster said. “We really wanted to focus on defense and rebounding and I think our guys did that. We knew our depth has been good for us all year long.

“Guys had to play a little longer than normal. Everybody wanted more minutes all year long, well, here they are.”

The Spartans, who had only five turnovers (none the first half) and 19 assists Saturday, play host to Dominican at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals.

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