ST. CHARLES – Thanksgiving basketball tournaments offer high school teams an opportunity to display their strengths but more importantly see some of the things they need to improve upon moving forward.
St. Charles East (2-2) learned a few tough lessons during Saturday’s 74-68 loss to East Aurora (3-1) in the third-place game of the 61st annual Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament in St. Charles.
Clinging to a 50-47 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Saints struggled over the next three-minute stretch as the Tomcats went on a 15-2 run to build a 62-52 advantage with 3:45 remaining.
Sophomore guard Julian Acosta, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, started the surge with a 3-pointer, Jashawn Hurston (13 points) added a 3-point play, and Amarion Savage's layup extended the Tomcats' lead to 10.
"We knew they were going to trap-press us," said East Aurora coach Rick Robinson. "They're big, they're long and they're fast so we knew that if we could get the ball to the middle, we'd have a chance for some 3 on 2 and 2 on 1 breakouts."
The Saints cut the deficit to three on three separate occasions, the last coming at 71-68 after Chase Monkemeyer knocked down a pair of free throws with 35 seconds remaining.
But the Tomcats held on, as Acosta's two free throws with 3.5 seconds left sealed the decision.
"We don't have our rotations down very well defensively," said Saints coach Patrick Woods. "We played 12 guys and eight of them played 10 or more minutes. We'e just trying to find our way right now."
Senior guard Luke Matheny, who earned all-tournament honors, paced the Saints with 16 points
"I think we thought even though we didn't have size, that our natural skill and lower level success at the freshman and sophomore levels would win us basketball games," said Matheny. "We need to communicate better."
The Saints hurt their own cause with turnovers and subpar shooting.
"I don't think they pressured us enough for the number of turnovers we had," said Woods. "We're not shooting the ball well, either 45 percent from 2-point range and an abysmal 20 percent on 3s.
Sean Sullivan and his twin brother, Aidan, finished with 9 and 8 points, respectively, while the Saints bench outscored East Aurora's reserves, 34-16.
However, the Saints also lost the rebounding battle, 43-34.
"We learned what we've got to get better at taking care of the ball, making free throws and rebounding," said Woods.
The Saints open their DuKane Conference season Friday at Glenbard North.
"I told the guys that these two losses in a row (to Proviso East Friday) mean nothing going into conference," said Matheny. "Honestly, I think it humbles us a little."
Jacques Kelly added 13 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals for the Tomcats.
"It's a good start for East Aurora basketball," said Robinson. "We'e been coming here and starting out 0-4 so to start off on a winning note, it's a big plus for the whole program."