ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles East boys basketball team’s roster is deep, versatile and skillful enough to morph into several distinctly dangerous lineups.
The Saints’ latest permutation gave previously undefeated Geneva a nightlong headache on Friday as East controlled a key, early-season Upstate Eight Conference River game, prevailing against the Vikings, 55-39.
Often playing point guards Dom Adduci and Cole Gentry together as part of a smaller, trapping lineup, East forced the usually efficient Vikings into 23 turnovers and prevented Geneva from sustaining any comfort level on offense.
Gentry, a sophomore, made his first varsity start.
“Cole would pressure his guy, force him one way. I would trap him the other way, and they wouldn’t expect it,” Adduci said. “Same with Cole. Cole would come on one side, and I would get the other. We tag teamed together. We definitely pressured them.”
Adduci and Gentry are natural point guards, but they stayed out of each other’s way offensively. Adduci led East with 14 points while Kendall Stephens, who came off the bench on the heels of an illness, added 13.
“I love playing with [Adduci] because he’s such a good shooter,” Gentry said. “There’s no need for me to force anything because I can find him, we can play off each other. ... We kind of feed off each other because we’ve played point guard for so long, and we understand what the other’s going to do.”
Gentry converted all four of his shot attempts, three of which came on run-outs in transition.
East coach Pat Woods said the team had high hopes for the slenderly built sophomore after Gentry’s solid summer with the varsity.
“I thought today more than any other game, Cole played the way we expected him to play, taking care of the ball and finding the open guy,” Woods said. “He played his role very well.”
East (5-1, 1-1 UEC River) kept its tallest players on the bench for much of the night, letting rangy, athletic wings A.J. Washington and Stephens add another dimension to the team’s disruptive, full-court pressure.
Geneva (7-1, 1-1 UEC River) was within 26-24 at halftime and took a pair of one-point leads early in the third quarter, but the Vikings’ mounting turnovers caught up with them.
“We did not handle the ball well, we did not pass the ball well, we did not meet the pass, we had balls that were knocked out of our hands because we weren’t strong with the ball,” Vikings coach Phil Ralston said. “In all those phases, we did a very poor job tonight, and yet, despite that, up until it got away from us at the end of the third, the beginning of the fourth, we were still in the game. That’s the amazing part.”
On several occasions, Geneva had a man open in the paint against the press but appeared too frazzled to make the connection.
“The thing ... is St. Charles East has done us a great favor,” Ralston said. “They’ve done us a great favor. They’ve exposed where we need to improve. At this point of the season, that’s great.”
Geneva senior center Connor Chapman had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while sophomore wing Nate Navigato added 12 points and nine rebounds. Junior forward Kyle Brown scored all seven of his points in the second quarter for the Vikings, who will look to make amends tonight against Elgin.
A large, black-clad East student section was treated to another scintillating, early-season jam from Washington, who emphatically finished an alley-oop feed from Adduci for a 44-33 Saints lead in the final minute of the third quarter.
East was in the mood to blow off a little steam eight days after a disappointing home loss to Larkin to open the conference slate.
“We were hungry after that Larkin loss,” Adduci said. “It left a bad taste in our mouths, every single person on the team.”