ST. CHARLES – Nobody was going to stop Quinten Payne from exploding to the rim.
The St. Charles North senior, a three-year varsity standout, drove baseline with a ferocious burst, drawing a hard foul that could not be ignored and sending him to the free-throw line with less than a second left in overtime on Friday night, and his team trailing St. Charles East by one point.
Upon hearing the whistle after he crashed to the floor, Payne pumped his fists in satisfaction.
But after a timeout and with East’s gym at a frenzied pitch, Payne missed both free throws with four-tenths of a second left in OT, allowing East to top North, 56-55, in one of the most dramatic meetings ever between the crosstown rivals.
“I just thank the basketball gods,” East junior guard Dom Adduci said. “The last shot, his shot was halfway in and then it came out. I mean, it was unfortunate for them, but for us, it was unbelievable.”
The ending was a cruel twist for the North Stars and, in particular, Payne, who scored a team-high 26 points and canned a 3-pointer to tie the score at 50 with 56 seconds left in regulation.
The Loyola recruit was 8 for 9 from the free-throw line on the night before missing the last two.
“It was just like shooting any other free throws, but it was a little louder in the gym,” Payne said, likely the understatement of the night. “They didn’t fall. There’s nothing we can do about it now. We play them next time, I’ll bury the free throws.”
North coach Tom Poulin went to bat for Payne after the excruciating conclusion.
“He’s got a huge heart,” Poulin said. “He wants to win as badly as anybody, and he did everything he could. You wouldn’t want anybody else on the foul line, not just tonight, the next time. Both he and [Kyle Swanson], those are two guys that we would choose to have on the foul line in those situations, and we have confidence in them just like we did before the game started, going forward.”
North (10-7, 4-3 Upstate Eight Conference River) led, 55-53, when Swanson went to the foul line for a one-and-one with 37 seconds to go in OT. Swanson missed, and East (11-7, 4-2) took full advantage.
Sophomore point guard Cole Gentry found Adduci free off a screen, and Adduci drained a 3-pointer from the left wing for the night’s final points with 24 seconds to play in OT.
Adduci, who has deferred to the fast-emerging Gentry in some key situations lately, reminded the packed house he remains a prime-time player. He finished with a game-high 27 points.
“Unlike some other games, I found a great balance of going to the basket and getting my [perimeter] shot off,” Adduci said. “I’m definitely going to try and keep that up for the rest of the season.”
Adduci outscored Payne, 6-5, in overtime, accounting for all the points in the extra session. Payne’s three-point play, drawing a foul on East forward A.J. Washington, gave the North Stars their 55-53 lead with 1:43 left in OT.
After Payne’s tying 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation, East called a pair of timeouts, ultimately leading to Gentry’s drive past North point guard Tony Neari in the closing seconds. Gentry’s attempted bank shot wouldn’t fall.
“I thought I could get by [Neari],” said Gentry, who scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime. “I didn’t think he wanted to foul because he had four. I tried to go by him, and I just put too much on the floater. I thought it was a good look though. For the situation, I thought it was a good look.”
East used an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter to turn a 43-40 deficit into a 48-43 advantage with 4:10 to play in regulation, capped by a Tyler Windau put-back. But North’s Alec Goetz scored four straight points to bring the North Stars within 48-47 before a driving layup by Gentry provided East a 50-47 lead with 2:07 left.
A loss would have been crushing for the Saints, who have been scuffling in the injured Kendall Stephens’ absence. East, which beat North, 61-42, at the Saints’ Thanksgiving tournament, snapped a three-game losing streak.
East coach Pat Woods said he could not bear to watch Payne’s free throws.
“I was like ‘Please miss one, just to give us another chance in overtime,’ ” Woods said. “He played a heck of a game. I caught him at the end here on the way out and told him, bottom line, if it wasn’t for him – he carried them with 26 points. And I thought we defended him well.”
The Saints have won more than their share of wild ones in the past month, including a banked-in, near half-court shot by Adduci for a win against Glenbard East and Gentry’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat Evanston.
“Maybe it’s the basketball gods giving us something back for Kendall’s injury,” Gentry said. “But we always put ourselves in good situations to get these wins. We work hard, and if you work hard, good things happen to you. It’s good to be lucky, but it comes with the territory of working hard.”