The last time Jake Asquini played the role of stealth bomber for St. Charles East, he knocked down 6-of-6 3-point shots against St. Charles North last year.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore shooting guard nearly matched that Friday night in sweeping in out of nowhere to bust open a tight game at Streamwood with 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Asquini's team-high 15 points led the Saints to an important 61-43 Upstate Eight River boys basketball victory.
St. Charles East (14-8, 7-3) was hoping for some help from Geneva, which was hosting first-place Larkin, to move into a tie for first place in the conference but Larkin rolled over Geneva 72-52 to clinch the River title outright. If seeds hold, St. Charles East and Larkin would meet again March 1 for the Class 4A South Elgin regional championship. Larkin, which beat the Saints twice this season, is the top seed in the regional and the Saints are second.
The Saints took care of their own business Friday, keeping Streamwood (9-18, 2-9) from having the odd distinction of notching all of its conference wins against the top three teams, having already toppled Larkin and Geneva.
The Sabres, fresh off an overtime upset victory against Geneva last weekend, looked ready to surprise another conference foe in opening a 24-23 halftime lead behind Joel Lightbourne's 14 points.
But Lightbourne would score only one more basket, good enough for a game-high 16 points, but not good for the Sabres, who struggled to score most of the second half.
With the Saints leading 35-32 late in the third quarter, a couple of Streamwood turnovers led to Asquini's first two 3-point bombs. After he bagged two more, the Saints enjoyed a 47-32 lead heading into the final quarter. Streamwood would never threaten again.
"My teammates did a good job of finding me for all of those shots, I didn't create any of them," Asquini said of his barrage. "They found me, and I just knocked them down."
If Streamwood would have known Asquini's secret, the Sabres may have pulled out of their zone defense before he put them way back on their heels.
"Once the first one goes, my confidence boosts up a lot," Asquini said. "That's just kind of how I am."
When Ben Skoog (11 points) hit a running one-hander and followed it with a layup off a steal midway through the fourth quarter, the Saints knocked out any hope the Sabres may have had. Asquini's final 3 of the night lifted St. Charles East to a 55-37 lead. Moments later, James McQuillan's layup gave the Saints their largest lead at 59-37.
"Jake's shooting was great, but more importantly AJ (Washington) and Ben were great on the boards because we weren't rebounding at all in the first half," St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods said.
The Saints kept their trapping defense "in our back pockets" until the second half, Woods said. When they unleashed it, the Sabres committed 13 second-half turnovers, most of them near midcourt where the Saints could easily convert at the other end.
Streamwood coach Tim Jones said his team played well until Asquini entered a different zone.
"We know who the shooters are," Jones said. "You just have to get out on them."
The Saints hit 23 of 51 shots from the floor for 45 percent, while Streamwood converted 18 of 42 shots for 42 percent. But the Saints banged down 11 3-pointers in the game, while the Sabres had only one from Jacob Siewert.
"The effort was there, but we couldn't score," Jones said. "St. Charles is a very dangerous team when they shoot the ball, and when they get a little run like that and we aren't scoring, what can you do?"
St. Charles East took good care of the ball, committing only 11 turnovers, while Streamwood lost the ball 23 times.
Vince Williams had a game-high 7 rebounds for the Sabres, who had a 30-24 edge on the boards.