ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East boys basketball coach Pat Woods isn't especially enthralled with the 1-3-1 zone defense.
For at least this season, Woods is willing to leave his defensive prejudices at the door. The Saints' 1-3-1 continued to frazzle the opposition on Saturday night as St. Charles East dominated St. Charles North, 61-42, to win the St. Charles East Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament title.
"I'm a man-to-man coach, I believe in man-to-man 100 percent, but I'm also not dumb," Woods said. "I realize we have size, so we started toying around with the idea probably in the summer when we realized that our lineup realistically could include four guys over 6-5."
A large crowd showed up for an unprecedented intracity tournament championship game, but the North Stars contingent had little to cheer offensively, as the off-kilter North Stars had to rely heavily on the free throw line to put points on the board.
"At first, I didn't expect the 1-3-1 to be our main defense, but we have long, great defenders that anticipate," said East senior Kendall Stephens, who plays at the top of East's 1-3-1. "As you can see, we've been making it hard for St. Joe, Schaumburg and now North. It's a really tough defense to get around and score on. Credit to coach Woods, man. He's a good mastermind."
East (4-0) and North (3-1) were originally scheduled to meet again at East next Saturday, but with the teams meeting in the tournament final, the schools agreed to move that conference game, likely to Feb. 2.
That will give the North Stars time to recalibrate their approach.
"We have three different offenses we can run against the 1-3-1 but at this stage in the season, we're not real crisp in it, and we broke away from it way too much and dribbled the basketball way too much," North coach Tom Poulin said. "We feel confident going against the 1-3-1, honestly."
Stephens was named tournament MVP after scoring a game-high 30 points against the North Stars, one night after lighting up state-ranked St. Joe for 31.
Stephens, whose status for the season was in question after he tore his right labrum during preseason practice, has looked like "the Kendall Stephens I've been waiting for since I got here," Woods said.
"He's played four, rock-solid games," Woods said. "I think he's putting together a year that, if he keeps at this pace, Mr. Basketball is not out of the realm of possibility, nor is all-state. You can't even tell that he's hurt. It's crazy."
A Stephens layup gave the Saints a 10-1 lead midway through the first quarter, prompting a North timeout. East led 27-16 at halftime and by no fewer than nine points throughout the second half.
"I knew we'd just have to hang on and knock down free throws as the game went on," Saints forward David Mason said of protecting the lead. "It turned out, and we executed down the stretch."
East point guard Dom Adduci scored 10 points before fouling out with 4:50 left in the game and his team ahead, 44-32. Forward A.J. Washington came off the bench and supplied six points and eight rebounds for a deep Saints team that played 12 guys before the third quarter was through.
North senior Quinten Payne scored 22 points and junior Alec Goetz added 11 but none of the other North Stars scored more than two.
Woods, in his second year at East, was unsure when the last time the Saints won their Thanksgiving tournament was, but the consensus is it's been more than 30 years.
"Regardless, it's been a while," Woods said. "And we're very happy."
St. Joe won the tournament's third place game, topping Downers Grove South, 46-44.