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The first four minutes were a sluggish start for both teams.
But once the St. Charles East boys basketball team found its rhythm against Public League member Von Steuben, the Saints' maiden appearance in the famed Proviso West Holiday Tournament was an unqualified success.
With the field extended to 32 teams for the first time in its 52-year history, the Saints cruised into the second round with a convincing 70-36 victory over the Panthers in Hillside on Wednesday afternoon.
St. Charles East (8-2) advances in the championship bracket to face Stevenson, which escaped Hinsdale Central 56-54, at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
The Saints were nursing a 10-9 lead late in the opening quarter, but Von Steuben was doomed during a five-plus minute stretch, going scoreless while St. Charles East scored 17 unanswered points.
Kendall Stephens, the Saints' Purdue-bound off-guard, scored 9 of his game-high 22 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, to close out the first.
Backcourt mate Dom Adduci was whitewashed in the opening half by the Panthers, but the junior point guard delivered in other essential ways, handing out 3 assists during four-possession stretch during the Saints' 17-0 blitz that trebled their lead to 27-9.
"(For) the day after Christmas, we're very happy with how we played," St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods said. "I thought we had a lot of other guys (other than Stephens and Adduci play well)."
The Saints' offense was often predicated on its opportunistic defense,
Von Steuben (4-2) was completely stymied by the Saints' zone defense in the opening half; the squad could manage only a mere conventional field goal in trailing 38-16 at the halftime break.
"They couldn't handle our 1-3-1 (zone) very well," St. Charles East post Ben Skoog said. "We had our hands up, and it hurt their vision (in making decisions)."
It was only fitting that Jake Asquini would also beat the halftime intermission with another 3-pointer for the Saints; bench play would render any hope the Panthers had of a comeback falling short.
The Saints' reserves outscored their counterparts from Von Steuben to the tune of 29-14 over the game.
Asquini scored 10 points in 11 minutes for St. Charles East; sophomore guard Cole Gentry did not a miss from the field in scoring 8 points largely courtesy of two 3-pointers, and Jimmy Liss' 7 points represented yet more quality minutes off the bench for St. Charles East.
"We prepare (the starters) during the week in practice," Liss said. "It says a lot that they have a lot of confidence in us. There wasn't much drop-off (between the starters and reserves) either way."
"It just gives us more experience moving forward," Woods said of 14 players seeing action.
A.J. Washington was the third East player in double figures with 12 points.
Demetrius Faulkner and Joseph Rencher led Von Steuben with 11 points each.
"They must have been playing too much with (their Christmas presents)," Von Steuben coach Vince Carter joked of his players' offensive woes (12-for-47, 26 percent). "We just imploded offensively. We don't have the big bench like (St. Charles East)."