ST. CHARLES – A pajama-clad St. Charles North student section stormed the court Saturday after its muses put an important early-season argument to bed.
North boasts the better boys basketball team in St. Charles right now, as a physical 68-58 Upstate Eight Conference River Division victory against East prepared the North Stars for the mosh pit that was to come.
Efficient defense and rebounding powered host North (5-1, 2-0 UEC River) in a game that saw both teams struggle from the field.
"We worked all week on getting boards and box-outs in our zone," North senior forward Erik Miller said. "We take a lot of pride in that zone, you know. It works."
Shooting woes also sprouted when the schools' girls' teams met to open the crosstown doubleheader, but East eventually came untracked for a 72-68 win.
On the boys side, the Saints (2-4, 0-2 UEC River) ultimately were relegated to hoisting deep 3s and fouling the North Stars – who converted 15 of 22 fourth-quarter free throws – down the stretch.
After the game, East coach Pat Woods stressed that patience would only benefit his team in the long-term, which includes a Jan. 18 rematch with North. With guard Cole Gentry (back) only recently returning to the lineup and post David Mason still mending from a broken foot, the Saints aren't working with their full complement of options.
"We'll be all right when all's said and done, you know," Woods said. "We've just got work to do."
North swished six 3s, including three from Alec Goetz, who matched East's Dom Adduci with 21 points. Despite Adduci's relative outburst, North players still felt they contained the explosive guard, who was limited to two points in the first half.
That's because the zone often limited Adduci's attempts, forcing other Saints to take aim. North coach Tom Poulin considered it a "victory" when someone other than Adduci attempted a field goal. Although the Saints' AJ Washington (13 points) drilled a handful of long baseline jumpers early and Gentry (11) emerged late, the philosophy was sage enough.
East's shooting struggles included an 8 of 24 mark from inside the arc.
"It's St. Charles North basketball," Goetz said. "Everyone chips in, everyone does what they [do], and we get wins right now. And that's really the solution."
Miller added 13 points on his 18th birthday, and also was pivotal in a collective rebounding effort alongside a handful of football teammates joining him on the hardwood.
"I don't have a problem with it being physical this year," Poulin said. "We've got some horses."
East girls hold on
After shooting 8 for 11 in the opening quarter, the North girls were 2 for 14 from the field in the second. The Saints (3-4, 2-0) limited the North Stars on the glass, as well. North (2-5, 1-1) went without a second-quarter field goal until freshman wing Sami Sample swished a jumper with 3:16 before halftime.
East's Amanda Hilton, once a freshman varsity contributor herself, already had grabbed the spotlight by that point. Hilton scored eight straight Saints points midway through the second quarter, the last three of which came on a trey that gave East a 23-21 lead.
Chants of "MVP!" from East's orange-intensive student section followed. The group also touted a large cardboard cutout of a Hilton headshot.
North coach Sean Masoncup called the sequence the difference in the game, but his team still was in position to seize control late. East's 12 second-half free-throws to North's three ultimately proved the difference. A rebounding edge helped, too.
"I felt like we had control of the game a majority of the time and kept our fans cheering, which was huge," Hilton said. "It picked us up, we were all supportive, and when it came down to the big plays, we made them. It was great."
Guard Katie Claussner secured arguably the biggest rebound down the stretch, hustling to corral her miss after splitting a pair of free throws. Moments later, she found Kyra Washington for a lay-in that put East ahead, 67-62.
Separate Sam Novak 3s in the closing minute weren't enough for North.
"The great thing about these kids is they never give up," Masoncup said. "I've got great kids and I'm proud of them, and we've talking about getting close and getting over that hump of how to win a basketball game."
Novak led all scorers with 20 points, while teammates Nicole Davidson (17) and Ashling Davern (11) followed.
East trumped that effort with five double-digit scorers: Hilton (18), Claussner (13), MacKenzie Meadows (13), Washington (12) and Hannah Vitkus (10).