GENEVA – St. Charles North’s speedy backcourt of Alec Goetz and Jake Ludwig made their share of plays in the open court, and they also commanded ample attention from Geneva’s defense.
That opened up vast operating space for forward Jack Callaghan, who delivered some of North’s biggest plays Friday as the North Stars earned a valuable Upstate Eight Conference River win against Geneva, 64-57.
“One of the keys we said to this game is you could not let Goetz and Ludwig have their way with you, and they pretty much did,” Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. “But a lot of that went back to our transition defense, which was not very good tonight.”
Goetz (18 points), Callaghan (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Ludwig (14 points) – North’s top players on the season – all came to play, with Callaghan finding his perimeter shooting stroke that has been slow to come around this season.
Callaghan buried three of his four 3-pointers in the third quarter as the North Stars and Vikings jostled for the lead, with North toting a 48-46 edge into the fourth.
“They were hedging a lot [on screens] so it just opened up the pop, so I was just wide open, and I got my confidence back,” Callaghan said.
North (8-5, 4-1 UEC River) gradually padded its lead in the fourth as Geneva’s offense stalled for more than four minutes to open the final quarter.
The North Stars led, 58-51, after a Camden Cotter layup, but the Vikings made one last, unconventional push to keep the outcome in question. The Vikings crashed the offensive glass hard in the closing minutes – especially off their own missed free throws – and surged to within 59-57 of North with 47 seconds to play after Chris Parrilli scooped up his own missed free throw and laid it in.
Goetz then split a pair of free throws to make it 60-57, and the Vikings’ Justin Durante missed a corner 3-pointer that could have tied it. Goetz made both free throws after corralling the rebound to restore a two-possession buffer with 22 seconds left.
Sharper box-outs off missed free throws will be an obvious point of emphasis for North in the aftermath of Friday’s fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to box out on those,” Callaghan said. “If we do that, it’s not even close down the stretch. If you want to take a positive out of that, if we box out, we’re probably up by 10 at the end of the game, maybe 12. But yeah, we’ve got to box out better.”
Geneva (13-4, 3-3 UEC River) was led by 14 points apiece from Nate Navigato and Durante, while the flu-plagued Parrilli (11) and Pace Temple (10) also were in double figures.
The Vikings’ post players struggled, with both Mike Landi and Loudon Vollbrecht fouling out after combining for three points.
Vollbrecht also was assessed a technical foul that contributed to a second quarter surge for North.
The teams’ first meeting of the season loomed large for both teams, which sought to remain within close range of conference-leading Larkin.
“Very disappointing to be in that position in the conference – we’re midway through the season, and we’re just .500,” Ralston said. “Outside of conference, we’ve got one loss … and some of those are against some pretty darn good teams. I don’t have a good explanation for our situation in conference but we now need other teams in our conference to help bail us out to give us a shot at this thing.”
Senior center Garrett Johnson added eight points for North, which welcomed back starting forward Erik Miller from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for almost a month.
North only had three practices in the two weeks since the Pontiac tournament because of a planned post-tournament break plus the weather-dictated school postponements early this week.
North coach Tom Poulin thought the layoff was evident during a first quarter after which Geneva led, 15-11.
“That was our main theme at the end of the first quarter – we were just playing,” Poulin said. “And we were still right there, but we were just playing. If we started to compete, we felt like we’d be OK, and I thought that’s what happened.”