PONTIAC – After the St. Charles North boys basketball team’s 73-69 win against Bloomington on Thursday at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, North senior center Garrett Johnson acknowledged the North Stars might have beaten a more gifted opponent.
“They honestly might have had a little bit more talent,” Johnson said. “But teams beat talent, I guess. That definitely was the key for us.”
The North Stars hope Johnson’s philosophical observation carries even more weight after today’s game. The opening win against Bloomington gives North a shot at four-time defending Class 4A state champion Simeon at 11 a.m. today.
Simeon looming reminded North coach Tom Poulin of a night five years ago when North and Simeon both were part of the Batavia Night of Hoops field.
“I think it was [Jabari]Parker’s freshman year, I introduced myself to [Simeon coach Robert Smith],” Poulin said. “He probably doesn’t remember, but I do. I was early on in coaching as a head coach, and I said my dream is to get St. Charles North somewhere near the level they’re at, and he just kind of chuckled.
“We talked for a couple minutes and I just said, ‘Some day I’d love to get you on the schedule as something that happens,’ and here we are. So it’s exciting for me, too.”
The fourth quarter of North’s win over Bloomington offered drama in its own right.
North led, 48-47, entering the final quarter. The Purple Raiders (6-4) took a pair of one-point leads in the fourth, but North (7-3) went ahead for good, 58-57, on a pair of Jack Callaghan free throws with 4:13 to play.
Encouragingly for North, the North Stars were able to take control despite high-scoring guards Jake Ludwig (20 points) and Alec Goetz (17) both being held scoreless in the final quarter until a driving Goetz basket made it 65-57 with 1:52 to go.
North’s big guys provided crucial contributions down the stretch, including a three-point play by Johnson – who rebounded his own miss before drawing the foul – that gave North a 61-57 lead at the 3:27 mark.
For the afternoon, North post players Johnson (11 points, eight rebounds), Camden Cotter (six points, seven rebounds) and Chase Gianacakos (four points, three rebounds) helped the North Stars excel on the interior. North out-rebounded Bloomington, 46-37.
“I thought we got very good minutes out of each one of them,” Poulin said. “They were active for four quarters, offensively and defensively, especially on the glass. Every day, Chase gets a little better, he really does.”
It seemed as if North had the game put away multiple times, but shifty Bloomington point guard Antonio Sims (game-high 25 points) kept connecting to keep North on guard.
The North Stars also saw Ludwig called for a pair of violations for crossing the line prematurely on free throws in the late stages, which Ludwig said has not been problematic in the past.
“Not necessarily,” Ludwig said. “Just this game.”
North trailed by only a point, 35-34, at halftime, despite connecting on only two field goals in the second quarter. The North Stars survived thanks to repeated trips to the foul line. Goetz made all eight of his free throws in the quarter; he and Ludwig combined for 23 of North’s 34 points in the first half.
Simeon flattened Waukegan, 82-41, in the game immediately after North’s, so the North Stars caught a first-hand glimpse of what they’ll be contending with today.
“I think they’re going to get out and pressure and try to harass rebounders and steal outlets,” Poulin said. “They might not protect the rim in the full court, so try and get behind them. The whole key is going to be to force contested jumpshots, just jumpshots, and then to try and do our best to keep them off the offensive glass.”
The North Stars hope to summon all of their toughness against the nationally regarded Wolverines.
“You can’t be scared to put up a shot, you can’t be scared to get blocked because there are athletes out there,” Johnson said. “You’ve just got to be ready to fight.”