ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles East boys basketball program needed a reason to smile.
Cole Gentry gave the Saints and their fans much more than a smile. The 5-foot-9, 145-pound sophomore incited bedlam on Saturday night when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer capped a dazzling individual performance in the Saints' 60-57 win against Evanston.
One day after word spread that East star Kendall Stephens plans to have season-ending surgery this month, Gentry served notice that the program's upward trajectory will not come to a screeching halt in Stephens' absence. His game-winner, which came out of a timeout with 5 seconds remaining, gave him an improbable 30-point night.
Gentry canned all six of his 3-pointers on the night and, perhaps most remarkably, scored all 15 of East's points in the fourth quarter.
Regarding the final shot, Gentry said "If you're confident, you know you're going to make that shot if you get it. That's just how I went into that situation."
"I just figured, Kendall's not here, why not me," Gentry said. "Somebody's got to step up, why not myself. I knocked it down. It was a good feeling."
Judging by the scene that unfolded, it was a lot better than good.
When his relatively clean look from near the top of the key dropped, Gentry sprinted to the opposite end of the floor, where he was mobbed by teammates and other euphoric members of the student body.
Gentry, who started Saturday but has come off the bench much of the season, is mostly known for his ball-handling and distributing prowess at this stage of his varsity career. His previous scoring high on the season was 12 points.
"It was a pretty big jump," Gentry said. "I think it's the most I've ever scored. Once it got going, I didn't want to stop. I just wanted to keep attacking."
East coach Pat Woods said there were multiple options for Gentry after receiving the final inbounds pass, but he expected the sophomore would have a decent opportunity to uncork a potential winner because the Wildkits figured to focus on East junior guard Dom Adduci, a more established scoring threat.
"When you're having a night like [Gentry] did, the basket's the size of the ocean, and everything you throw up is going in," Woods said.
The Wildkits (7-9) led, 53-48, with 6:24 to play in the fourth quarter after a four-point possession that included a technical foul on Saints junior forward A.J. Washington.
But a corner 3-ball from Gentry and a pair of Gentry free throws allowed East (10-4) to tie the game at 53 with 2:50 to go.
Gentry again made a pair of free throws to tie the game, this time at 55, with 1:15 left, and he then poked the ball away on defense to teammate Ben Skoog to give the Saints the ball with the chance to take the lead.
After a Saints timeout with 48 seconds left, Gentry beat his man and zoomed in for a reverse layup to put the Saints ahead, 57-55, with 37 seconds remaining.
It was then Evanston's turn to tie the game as Wildkits junior Jackson Mihevc drew a foul on Washington and made both free throws for a 57-all tie with 10.5 seconds to go.
After East moved the ball across halfcourt, Woods called timeout with 5 seconds left, setting up Gentry's 3-pointer that was foreshadowed by the sophomore drilling a trio of 3s in the first quarter.
In addition to his six 3s, Gentry converted all six of his free throws on the night and made 3 of his 4 two-point attempts.
Evanston coach Mike Ellis said he was aware of the danger Gentry posed long before his hot start Saturday.
"There was a sense he was going to be a problem a month ago when I came and scouted them and told our kids [No. 44] is a point guard," Ellis said. "Our kids were well aware of who he is. They've known for a month that I think he's one of the best point guards in the state."
Although Woods played 12 guys on the night, all 60 of the Saints' points came from the starting lineup. Adduci tallied 13 points and Washington had 10 points and nine rebounds.
"Today it was Cole, I think Tuesday [against Glenbard West] it will be someone else," Woods said. "We're going to see I think a lot of different people step up throughout the rest of the season to kind of fill the absence and for us to move forward as a team."
On Saturday, Gentry gave a performance that won't soon be forgotten by anyone in the gym.
That includes Stephens, who confirmed after the game he is planning a Jan. 22 surgery to fix his torn right labrum.
"That was amazing," Stephens said. "He played his [butt] off."