BATAVIA – Just four days after a crucial missed free throw proved costly in Sunday’s loss to Waukegan, St. Charles North junior Alec Goetz again toed the free-throw line with a game teetering in the balance.
With his North Stars clinging to a one-point lead in the final minute, Goetz was fouled for a one-and-one with 41 seconds left. This time, Goetz converted both to give his team a bit of breathing room, and teammate Quinten Payne followed by sinking four more free throws in the final 23 seconds as the North Stars knocked off Batavia on Thursday, 44-37, for an Upstate Eight Conference River victory.
Goetz acknowledged thoughts of North’s one-point loss to Waukegan swirled in his head when it was time to go to the line.
“They were there, but I know my teammates had confidence in me, and my coach had confidence in me, so that’s more what I was thinking about,” Goetz said.
The North Stars (5-3, 2-1 UEC River) took a 38-32 lead with 3:48 to play when senior point guard Tony Neari drove in for a layup.
But the Bulldogs scored the game’s next five points thanks to a 3-point play off a putback by Mike Rueffer and a pair of Zach Strittmatter free throws that cut North’s lead to 38-37 with 1:47 to go.
North seemingly employed a delay-style offense while nursing a precarious lead in the closing minutes, with mixed results.
“Like coach (Tom) Poulin said when he came into the locker room, we weren’t really going for a delay there, we were just going to get an easy layup or an easy shot, and we just took it as we were trying to run the clock down,” Payne said. “He was like ‘You can’t run five minutes down in one possession.’ That was another learning thing.”
Payne scored a game-high 20 points for the North Stars, the final four as part of North’s 6 for 6 showing from the line in the final minute.
After the Goetz free throws gave North its 40-37 lead, Rueffer’s shot off a drive wouldn’t fall, and the Bulldogs (2-6, 0-3 UEC River) were on their way toward losing their fifth straight game after a 2-1 start under new coach Jim Nazos.
North led 15-10 after a first half that was as ugly as the score suggests.
The North Stars were crisp for the game’s first four minutes, taking a 9-0 lead after Payne found Goetz on a behind-the-back pass to complete a 2-on-1 fast break, but neither team could string together much offense the rest of the half.
Batavia went without a field goal for the game’s first 7:30, closing to 11-3 on a Rueffer basket with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
Nazos bemoaned his team’s recurring pattern of chilly starts to games.
“We’ve tried different things,” Nazos said. “It’s something that might be a little bit mental there, too, as well. I think sometimes we play early on not to make mistakes rather than play to attack. That’s hurt us a little bit.”
Goetz scored 10 points for North while senior forward Justin Stanko added six points and seven rebounds.
Junior guard Micah Coffey tied Strittmatter with a team-high 10 points for the Bulldogs who, like the North Stars, received no scoring off their bench.
Payne drained half of the six 3-pointers made by North, which maintained a single-digit lead throughout the second half.