SOUTH ELGIN – Quinten Payne and Erik Miller punctuated a breezy first half with dunks Monday, prompting some louder oohs from St. Charles North boys basketball fans.
Teammate Justin Stanko stands a few inches closer to the rim than both his teammates, but a subtler kind of positioning earned him more consistent attention from the public address announcer.
Stanko’s early efficiency keyed North’s surge to begin its 4A South Elgin Regional opening-round game, a 73-52 romp against the host Storm. While he played at the back of the North Stars’ full-court press, Stanko found himself streaking easily down the floor to help with a blitz in transition.
“We’re trained in practice to outlet the ball, go quick, transition,” Stanko said, “and that’s what I try to do on the floor. If I don’t get the rebound, I’m sprinting down, and that’s what I’ve got to do.”
North (17-10) advanced to face St. Charles East in a regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. today, a game that will mark the Upstate Eight Conference River Division rivals’ fourth meeting this season. The North Stars lost their first two games against East – including one in overtime – before regrouping for a 62-49 win on Feb. 2.
North Stars coach Tom Poulin installed a new full-court press entering that game, and while it didn’t produce an overwhelming tally of Saints turnovers, still contributed to a key, 10-0, North run spanning the first and second quarters.
East players filed in to the South Elgin gym as North pestered the 5-23 Storm with the press, building a 20-4 lead just 5:20 into the game. Stanko, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, scored 10 points in that span on 4 for 4 shooting and a pair of free throws. He finished with a season-high 17 points, joining Payne (15) in double figures.
South Elgin’s most likely chance to remain competitive hinged on its patient offense limiting North’s transition opportunities and overall possessions.
That’s been the traditional style under coach Chaz Taft, although the Storm has added urgency to its attack this season despite giving significant minutes to three freshmen – namely guard Matt Smith, who had a game-high 19 points.
“They’re more of a methodical, slow-it-down team. They try to grind it out on you, a lot like Geneva and them,” Payne said. “So our big thing was pressure, pressure, pressure. Try to speed them up. They’re young, so we tried to get a lot of traps on them and get runs out.”
North’s 8 for 9 start from the field put South Elgin behind early, but did not yet get the North Stars looking ahead.
Poulin did not fully empty his bench until the fourth quarter opened. The last of East’s players left their seats in the bleachers with North ahead by 30 in the final minutes. Weather permitting, the Saints will return today and figure to be followed by bunches of their fans.
“That’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great experience for everyone involved,” Poulin said. “It’s proving to be a great matchup, so I think that it’s going to be one that everybody remembers [tonight].”