ELGIN – Thursday’s boys basketball game between St. Charles North and Elgin ended with North point guard Alec Goetz harmlessly clutching the ball near midcourt.
Nothing flashy for the North Stars, but nothing nightmarish, either.
Elgin beat the buzzer in each of the first three quarters of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division game, staying pesky throughout. In their first action in nearly two weeks, the North Stars took a 70-61 win and exhaled.
“I think that it’s a function of us not playing for a while,” North guard Jake Ludwig said. “We were getting tired of practicing against each other, trying to get stuff out of our system. We definitely have got to get that better for Saturday and Larkin. I’m glad we won, though.”
Ludwig laid out the bottom line for North – which hosts conference-leading Larkin on Saturday – moments after being blunt with his own play down the stretch.
Elgin (7-12, 3-5 UEC River) erased an 11-point halftime deficit at the end of the third quarter and was trading punches with North until Ludwig took over. After Isaiah Butler banked in a 3 to tie the game at 61 with just less than three minutes to go, Ludwig scored the game’s final nine points.
“I just told myself I don’t want to lose,” said Ludwig, who finished with 16 points. “I decided it’s time to start playing. Got to get this win.”
Goetz (19 points) and forward Jack Callaghan (13) joined Ludwig in double figures. The extra options were a boon for the North Stars (12-6, 6-2) as the Maroons ramped up their speed and full-court trap after halftime. North shot just 2 for 9 in the third quarter, and was outscored, 24-12.
Elgin drilled just four of its 17 3-point attempts in the first half, but still had a flair for the clutch.
While the North Stars handled the Maroons for the majority of both opening quarters, Elgin’s ability to beat the buzzer stunted at least a portion of that momentum.
Ryan Sitter trimmed North’s first-quarter lead to five points before Butler (23 points) hit a 3 that pulled Elgin to within 38-27 at the break.
The North Stars struck from distance four times themselves in the first half – on seven attempts – displaying their range, if only to spread the wealth from an effective inside game.
Callaghan contributed 10 points and nine rebounds by halftime en route to finishing with 13 and 14, respectively. There also were consistent spurts of energy from coach Tom Poulin’s big men off the bench, including Camden Cotter and Johnny Davern.
North eventually overtook Elgin with its stamina and a 20-for-23 effort from the free throw line. It all added up to the team’s fifth win in six games, while helping exorcise the memory of the North Stars’ most recent game before Thursday, a 90-55 loss at St. Charles East.
Larkin defeated the host Saints, 64-55, on Thursday. North lost by 15 at Larkin in mid-December and has been itching for its next chance ever since.
“Our kids know Larkin pretty well, and it’s a big game for us. They’re a state-ranked team, and we feel like we can compete with state-ranked teams,” Poulin said. “We need to go out and walk the walk instead of talking the talk. ...
“That’s a big-game environment at home for us, and it’s the toughest challenge in our conference. It’s the toughest challenge in the area. So you can’t ask for anything more. That’s why you play, is to be able to have an opportunity to compete against somebody like Larkin.”