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East boys basketball drops OT thriller, North on to title game

St. Charles East’s Dom Adduci drives to the basket against St. Joseph on Friday during the 55th Annual Ron Johnson Basketball Tournament at St. Charles East High School.
St. Charles East’s Dom Adduci drives to the basket against St. Joseph on Friday during the 55th Annual Ron Johnson Basketball Tournament at St. Charles East High School.

ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles East boys basketball team had one of the state’s most highly regarded programs by the throat, but the Saints couldn’t finish off St. Joseph.

East saw a nine-point fourth quarter lead dissipate before taking St. Joe to overtime, falling, 71-68, Friday at East’s Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament. 

Earlier in the night, St. Charles North ran its tournament record to 3-0 with an impressive 67-46 thumping of Downers Grove South. North will face St. Joe in the tournament championship game.

If East had held off St. Joe, there would have been a three-way tie for first in the Saints’ pool between East, St. Joe and Schaumburg, but as it stands, the Saints will settle for a fifth-place game matchup against Downers Grove South.

East (1-2) led, 56-47, after a Dom Adduci basket with 5:15 to play in the fourth quarter, but the Saints’ worst two-minute stretch of the night followed, and the Chargers (3-0) had the lead, 58-57, by the 3:25 mark.

“We turned it over once, and then they got an easy layup, and then we did take two quick shots – one of them I thought was a good shot, one of them was a bad shot,” Saints coach Pat Woods said. “It’s tough to have kids second-guess, ‘Should I shoot, should I not?’ ”

Junior guard Cole Gentry, making his season debut off the bench after battling recurring back woes earlier in the week, made two free throws to tie the game at 61 with 1:19 to play in regulation, and both teams missed opportunities to grab a lead in the final minute, moving the game to overtime.

The Chargers started quickly in OT, grabbing a pair of five-point leads, but Saints junior Jake Asquini scored five quick points after substituting in, and Gentry banked one in to tie the game at 68 with 57 seconds left in OT.

But the Chargers’ Jordan Ash made two free throws with 49 seconds to go for a 70-68 lead. East senior AJ Washington misfired on a short jumper that would have tied it with about 15 seconds to go, and St. Joe forward Jon Johnson split a pair of free throws with 4 seconds left for the final margin.

Both teams saw a pair of marquee players foul out – Glynn Watson (18 points) for St. Joe and Adduci (game-high 26 points) for the Saints. The hard-slashing Adduci’s big night came despite uncharacteristically making no 3-pointers.

“I didn’t think we helped enough on him,” legendary St. Joe coach Gene Pingatore said of Adduci. “He was getting to the basket and he was drawing the fouls. He made a lot of free throws. I’ll tell ya, tough to guard, tough to guard. They’re a very good team.”

Adduci might have worn down late after crashing into bigger bodies throughout the night. The rangy, athletic Chargers blocked six shots on the night, but East never backed down.

“Those are two Division I guards [on St. Joe], and Dom showed he’s a Division I player today,” Woods said. “I mean, they couldn’t stay in front of him. He did a great job of getting to the basket. I would have liked to get him a little more rest, but he’s a warrior, he’s tough and he’s a competitor.”

East led 22-11 after a sizzling stretch late in the first quarter, but by halftime, St. Joe caught the Saints for a 36-35 edge.

Ash scored 22 points to lead St. Joe, while 6-foot-9 Nick Rakocevic had 14 points and 13 rebounds. For East, Asquini (13 points), James McQuillan (10) and Mick Vyzral (10) helped complement Adduci.

East won’t have a chance to defend its tournament title, which it won last year over St. Charles North. Instead, the North Stars will try to snatch their first Ron Johnson championship.

“It would be huge,” North coach Tom Poulin said. “I never won it when I played [at St. Charles High]. It’s a big deal to be in [the final] two years in row, that’s a heck of an accomplishment, but it didn’t feel real good last year to lose. … It would be very big for us as a program to be able to win this tournament.”

North (3-0) led Downers Grove South, 30-25, at halftime before breaking the game open with a 13-0 run to start the third quarter, capped by a pair of Camden Cotter free throws that made it 43-25 with 4:28 to play in the quarter.

Senior guard Alec Goetz led the North Stars with 20 points, 13 of those coming during the first quarter, when he sank three straight 3-pointers.

Goetz loves what he’s seeing from his team this week.

“We fast-breaked a lot during the summer, so that’s really what we turned into our offense,” Goetz said. “Summer really helped us but these last two weeks really helped us with our [matchup zone] that we play. We installed that these last two weeks, and that’s really important.”

Junior Jack Callaghan (10 points), senior Garrett Johnson (nine points, six rebounds) and junior Jake Ludwig (nine points) also chipped in for the North Stars.

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