HILLSIDE – Before Saturday morning’s consolation bracket contest in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, St. Charles East boys basketball coach Pat Woods challenged A.J. Washington to play better than he had in the first two games of the tourney.
The 6-5 senior responded in a big way in the Saints’ 70-56 victory over Urban Prep West.
“I thought A.J. Washington was a beast today,” Woods said. “Sixteen points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, two steals – that was one of his best games, and we needed it.”
Woods could have added three jams to the stat line for Washington, which all came at key moments in the game.
“That was probably the best game of my high school career,” Washington said. “Coach Woods told me to come out and have a strong game because I hadn’t played to my best potential this tournament. I just came out and did what I had to do.”
Washington scored eight of East’s first 11 points. He was fouled trying to put back a rebound with 3:10 left in the first quarter and hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 11. The Lions (9-2) took advantage of some sloppy ball-handling by the Saints (6-5) and deadly long-range shooting by junior point guard Jaquan Johnson to score the next 18 points of the game.
“We just came out cold, shooting-wise,” Woods said. “I thought our energy was good, but we weren’t hitting shots early.”
Johnson, meanwhile, was 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in the first half.
“That’s what he is. That’s what he does,” Urban Prep West coach La-Troy Farrow said. “He did it last year as a sophomore. He fits into the point guard role, but he’s a pure shooter. The kid gets hot. If it wasn’t for foul trouble, you could have looked out today because he had it going.”
The Saints have their share of outstanding 3-point shooters as well, including senior guard Dom Adduci. He hit a trey from the left corner midway through the second quarter to start East on a 12-0 run that included Washington’s first dunk off a nice feed by Adduci.
Cole Gentry hit a pair of treys just before halftime to pull East within 40-34 at the break. Gentry was 4-for-6 from 3-point land in the game and finished with 16 points.
In contrast to the first 16 minutes of the game, both teams got off to a sluggish start in the second half. Johnson, who wound up with 20 points, hit his sixth and last 3-pointer midway through the third quarter to keep the Lions up by six, 45-39. He finally misfired from beyond the arc with 3:35 left in the period and seconds later Washington threw down his second jam, igniting a 10-0 spree by the Saints.
James McQuillan (12 points) drilled a 3 from the right corner with 2 seconds left in the quarter to put East up, 52-48.
The Saints were up by just two early in the fourth when Washington recorded his third flush on an alley-oop pass from Gentry. That started the Saints on a 12-2 run that put the game out of reach.
Washington appeared injured after the slam and left the game moments later.
“I cramped up a little bit,” Washington said. “I felt it when I went up. I just wanted to come out really quick and get some fluids.”
Washington would return, but down the stretch Adduci took control. He scored eight of his 20 points in a span of 47 seconds to put East up, 64-52.
The Saints will face Libertyville at 11 a.m. Monday at 11 a.m. in the consolation semifinals.