St. Charles North put a twist on the old saying that it's not how you start but how you finish.
For the North Stars at the 54th annual Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament Wednesday night at St. Charles East, it wasn't how they finished but how they started.
The North Stars built a 20-point first half lead against North Lawndale, then did just enough in the fourth quarter to hang on for their second straight win in the tournament, 55-50.
"The second half they put a little more pressure on," North Star junior guard Alex Goetz said. "We fixed it as the game went on but for future reference we have to realize to slow down and run the offense."
The win was No. 100 for North Stars coach Tom Poulin, one that looked like it would be fairly routine until the Phoenix outscored them 32-19 in the second half to get as close as 51-48 with 1:10 remaining.
Goetz ended an 8-0 Phoenix run with 2 free throws with 57.6 seconds left. After North Lawndale (0-2) missed a pair of 3s, Justin Stanko hit 2 more from the line to complete a 20-of-26 (77 percent) night for the North Stars. North Lawndale was just 2 of 5 at the line.
"We did a good job of taking the clock down but defensively they got to the rim and they got second shots," Poulin said. "That didn't happen in the first half. This is how we get better is to learn from situations like this. To learn from a win, we just put on a clinic on how not to hold onto a lead down the stretch, but we'll get better from it, we have kids that will listen and are intelligent kids who will learn from it."
Goetz caught fire in the first quarter, scoring 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting with a trio of 3-pointers. The North Stars led 22-10 after one, then extended the advantage to 36-18 at halftime with Goetz and Quinten Payne combining for 26 of the points.
"We need him (Goetz) to stretch the defense," Poulin said. "He's a deep threat. He's a very, very skilled offensive basketball player and we were expecting this out of Alex."
Goetz led the North Stars with 20 points and 5 steals. Payne added 16 points and 6 rebounds.
Sophomore Jack Callaghan gave the North Stars a lift off the bench with two 3-pointers and 8 points. While the Saints were outrebounded 39-30, Justin Stanko battled for a team-high 9 boards.
"We wanted to earn their respect because we didn't think anybody respected us coming into this tournament," Poulin said. "We're trying to go out and prove to people what type of group we have, collectively how well we can play."
As for the 100-win milestone, Poulin deflected the credit.
"It (100 wins) means I had some good basketball players the last seven years," Poulin said. "When you have good basketball players coming through and great family support for me and the program that's how you get it done."
St. Charles North (2-0) can reach the championship game by beating 2-0 Downers Grove South in its final pool play game Friday night. Their best previous finish in the tournament was fifth in 2009 when they beat both Proviso East and Proviso West.
Keith Mack led North Lawndale with 19 points and 9 rebounds. The Phoenix struggled from the field all night, finishing 23 of 72 (31.9 percent).
"I thought we played really well in the first half," Payne said. "Then in the second half we kind of let it slip a little bit but early in the season that's why you see we don't know how to close games well as a team. It's a good building point."