Before meeting with reporters following his team's 51-40 victory at St. Charles North Friday night, Geneva coach Phil Ralston wanted a look at the scorebook.
It wasn't his side of the scoring Ralston wanted to see. It was No. 12 on the North Stars, Loyola-bound Quinten Payne, who the Vikings held to 6 points.
Those 6 points came on just 3 shot attempts from the field. swished 2 of them, both 3-pointers, but the fact he had so few attempts -- none in the first half -- told the story about the Vikings and how their mix of a 1-3 chase and triangle-and-two defenses dictated how the outcome would be determined.
"That doesn't always work." Ralston said. "Certainly Payne has had good games against us in the past, but that was kind of our philosophy tonight was that we wanted someone else besides him to beat us. I hate to say it, sometimes those gimmicks work."
Geneva (10-1, 4-1) moved a game ahead of St. Charles North (6-4, 3-2) in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division. Sophomore Nate Navigato led both teams with 18 points including 8-of-8 shooting at the free-throw line.
"Everybody thought we weren't that good and haven't proven ourselves yet but I think tonight we showed we're one of the top teams," said Navigato who was quick to praise the work of junior Chris Parrilli chasing Payne.
"We worked on it a lot in practice and everyone contributed and helped out," Parrilli said. "I was just trying to keep the ball out of his hands and make other guys step up."
A rash of injuries left Geneva with just nine players earlier this week at practice. While the Vikings tried to find enough healthy bodies to prepare for the North Stars, St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin had his team working on ways to beat the Vikings' unique defensive looks -- the only team who plays the North Stars with the gimmicks, Poulin said.
But after a 3-pointer from Alec Goetz to open the scoring, the North Stars struggled mightily. They finished at 34 percent shooting from the field (13 for 38) and made just four 2-point field goals.
They only scored 28 points until putting up 12 in the final two minutes after the Vikings had put the game away.
"We really like what we run against his 1-3 and his chaser," Poulin said. "In practice it looked really good, we were screening the zone and cutting through and tonight for some reason we got in the habit of passing and standing. I thought they were able to grab and hold Quinten quite a bit. They are a very physical team and you have to try to battle through that. We were very screenable tonight, and we didn't do a good job defensively which didn't allow us to get in transition and that's what you have to do against his teams."
The North Stars' last lead came at 8-7 on a three-point play from Kyle Swanson. Parrilli found Jason D'Amico on a backdoor cut to put Geneva back on top.
After Geneva stalled the final minute off the clock, Navigato made a sweet drive to score with 4 seconds left in the first quarter, then the North Stars turned the ball over with just .8 seconds to go. Geneva inbounded to Navigato 30 feet from the basket, and Navigato hit nothing but net for 5 quick points and an 18-11 lead.
"That shot, I have no idea how it went in," smiled Navigato.
Geneva outscored the North Stars each of the next three quarters, gradually building its lead to 26-18 at halftime and 37-28 after three.
St. Charles North made one run when Payne finally got his first shot and drained a 3 with 2:46 left in the third quarter. Justin Stanko followed with two free throws to bring the North Stars within 31-28.
Geneva answered with a 4-point play and was never threatened again. After D'Amico split free throws, he rebounded his own miss and fed Mike Trimble for a 3-point basket.
Poulin played the first four-plus minutes of the fourth quarter with Goetz, Payne and Tony Neari on the bench, a stretch of 4:25 that neither team scored a point.
"They wouldn't go with either one of those defenses if we didn't have either one of those kids in (Payne or Goetz)," Poulin said. "We like our depth. we were giving them a little blow and Geneva would go man in that situation and we were seeing what kind of execution we could get with a group of players that we're really confident in."
Parrilli also grabbed 7 rebounds as Geneva outrebounded the North Stars 23-18. Connor Chapman added 12 points as Geneva continued its excellent start that has seen only St. Charles East solve them heading into Saturday night's nonconference game at Maine East.
"They have a kind of poise about themselves," Ralston said. "I have to credit our graduated team from last year, they really instilled that in our current group of seniors. Don't panic, be in control, they are the ones who built up what we have this year."
Swanson scored 10 points to lead the North Stars. Stanko and Goetz both added 9. Goetz scored all of his in the first half, and the North Stars got all 40 points from their starters.
"We have to do a better job when people run defenses like that against him (Payne)," Poulin said. "We're more than one or two guys."