There will be a distinctive St. Charles flavor to tonight's championship game of the 54th annual Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament at St. Charles East.
Less than 2 hours after St. Charles North (3-0) rallied for a 53-48 victory over Downers Grove South to clinch a berth in the tourney finals, St. Charles East (3-0) staged an impressive second-half comeback of its own Friday night.
With his future college coach, Matt Painter, in attendance, Purdue-bound Kendall Stephens poured in a game-high 31 points while junior point guard Dom Adduci added 19 to power the Saints to an impressive 71-53 triumph over state-ranked St. Joseph (2-1).
Stephens and Adduci combined for 20 points during a 29-8 third-quarter explosion that turned a 2-point halftime deficit into a commanding 53-34 lead heading into the final 8 minutes.
The frenzied third quarter turned into a perfect storm of sorts for the Saints, who made 10 of 14 shots from the floor, including 5-for-9 accuracy from beyond the 3-point arc.
Equally as impressive was the Saints' 1-3-1 defense that held the Chargers to 20 percent (2-for-10) field-goal shooting during the 8-minute stretch.
When asked if he had seen his team play better, Saints coach Patrick Woods didn't hesitate.
"Not in a quarter, I don't think so -- and not against competition like St. Joe's," said Woods. "The big thing is that our zone defense has a lot of teams befuddled right now.
"As long as we are, that 1-3-1 makes it real tough," added Woods. "When you're 6-7, 6-8 across and with Kendall Stephens up there, it's a great thing."
The Saints scored the first 6 points of the third quarter on 3-pointers by Adduci and Stephens from nearly the same spot on the floor before tallying 10 unanswered points during a stretch that featured Adduci's third 3-pointer of the period, a three-point play by Dan Wilkerson (7 points, 4 rebounds), and sophomore Jake Asquini's 3-pointer from the corner.
"Once we started hitting some shots, we fed off each other," said Adduci, who shook off a sprained ankle to hit 6 of his 10 second-half shots. "Once we got rolling, it was tough to stop."
Adduci also handled the majority of his team's ball-handling duties against hounding defensive pressure from Chargers guards Joffery Brown and C.J. Wilhight.
"I love the physical challenge of games," said Adduci. "It really gets me going."
The Saints stretched their lead to as many as 24 on 3 separate occasions in the fourth quarter, receiving contributions from many, including sophomore guard Cole Gentry (6 points), Ben Skoog (2 points, 4 rebounds) and Stephens, who nailed 5 3-pointers while shooting 11-for-19 from the field during the signature win.
"We have a great group of guys," said Stephens, a 4-year varsity veteran. "We want each other to do well as much as we want ourselves to do well."
St. Charles East now prepares for the first of many battles with St. Charles North.
"It has always been my goal to be in the championship game of the tournament and to play North, it's amazing," said Stephens. "Ever since I got here, this tournament has always been stacked."
Junior Paul Turner led St. Joseph with 22 points.
"They really played well and wanted the game more than we did," said legendary Chargers coach Gene Pingatore. "This was a big game for them. I don't think our kids played that way."