St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens has accomplished a number of things during the course of his 4-year high school varsity basketball career.
On Saturday night, the 6-foot-5 senior guard added tournament Most Valuable Player honors to his ever-growing list of accolades.
But most importantly, Stephens helped the Saints (4-0) capture their own Thanksgiving tourney title for the first time in more than 30 years by pouring in a game-high 30 points during a 61-42 triumph over cross-town rival St. Charles North (3-1) at the 54th annual Ron Johnson Tournament.
Stephens connected on 4 of his 6 first-quarter shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Saints jumped out to a 17-8 lead.
That included a 10-1 run during the first 3-plus minutes before a boisterous home crowd, as North Stars coach Tom Poulin was forced to burn an early timeout.
"We came out wanting to give them the first punch and we hit them with a 10-1 run," said Stephens.
All-tournament teammate Dom Adduci (10 points) hit a pair of tough shots in the second quarter, as the Saints built a double-digit lead at 27-16 by halftime.
Stephens and Adduci's 18 combined points were 2 more than the entire North Stars' first-half scoring output.
While the North Stars struggled with shooting woes, hitting just 4 of their 16 field-goal attempts and misfiring on all 10 3-point tries, they also committed 11 first-half turnovers against the Saints' 1-3-1 zone defense.
"Our defense has been our staple so far this year," said Saints coach Patrick Woods. "The 1-3-1 is bothering people a lot."
The defensive change came about this past summer and dates back to Woods' coaching days at Ridgewood.
"When I was at Ridgewood, I had small teams," the coach said. "We were playing New Trier and they had three Division 1 guys 6-10 across and we couldn't do anything against it.
"I'm a man-to-man coach," added Woods. "I believe in man-to-man but I'm also not dumb. We realized that our lineup could consist of four guys over 6-5 so we started toying around with the idea this summer. I just think it is real tough to handle."
After junior guard Alec Goetz (11 points) split a pair of free throws to cut North's deficit to 9 at 28-19 early in the third quarter, the Saints countered with a 7-0 surge courtesy of Stephens.
First, he connected on a tough 14-foot fade-away jumper, then added a 3-pointer off a feed from sophomore guard Cole Gentry before hitting a runner in the lane to extend the Saints' lead to 35-19.
"As I told him yesterday, it's kind of the Kendall Stephens I've been waiting for since I got here," said second-year coach Woods. "I think he showed spurts of it last year but he's had four rock-solid games now. You can't even tell he's hurt (torn labrum). It's crazy."
Senior guard Quinten Payne scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the second half for the North Stars. Payne's 2 free throws pulled the North Stars within single digits at 41-32 with 7:02 remaining but Poulin still didn't like his team's body language.
"I wouldn't question anybody's effort but I didn't like our attitudes as the game went along," he said. "There was a dead ball and timeout and I feel like it was 19 (points down) instead of 9."
From there, the Saints doubled their pleasure, outscoring the North Stars 20-10 the rest of the way.
The North Stars, who made just 1 of 17 3-point attempts, were at times unrecognizable to their own coach.
"We didn't play well at all," admitted Poulin. "We didn't run our stuff. We didn't do what got us to the championship game. I was somewhat pleased defensively with our effort but offensively we did nothing that you would find in our playbook, and I thought we kind of panicked a little bit. We tried to get all of the points back in one possession."
AJ Washington added 6 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while David Mason added 5 points for the Saints.
"It was a slugfest out there, I thought," said Woods. "We're probably going to see each other three more times so we may have won the battle but the war isn't over."