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St. Charles North came into its season opener Tuesday with a chip on its shoulder -- and this year the North Stars have some mighty big shoulders.
With Division I football players Garrett Johnson and Chase Gianacakos back out for basketball for the first time in two years, the North Stars flexed their muscle to go with their shooters and skilled players in an impressive 58-54 win over Plainfield East at St. Charles East's 55th annual Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament.
"They are anxious to let people know they can play," North Stars coach Tom Poulin said. "I told them we know and that's what matters. They didn't read much about themselves. They are a competitive group, and they are team-first kids. Every last one of them doesn't care who scores as long as we score. They are really hungry to earn some respect. This was the first step."
Plainfield East (0-1) came into the game with the ranking and rising junior guard Aaron Jordan, with offers from Illinois, Wisconsin and Xavier among others.
St. Charles North (1-0) came in somewhat overlooked, playing for the first time in three years without Quinten Payne.
"Nobody really thinks we'll be good this year so it's nice to go out and get a win," junior guard Jake Ludwig said. "Everyone is doubting us, it's definitely motivation. We're using everything as motivation. Nobody thinks we'll do good but us."
Plainfield East scored the game's first basket -- which turned out to be its only lead. Ludwig answered with the first of his three 3-pointers, and the North Stars quickly built leads of 13-2, 15-6 after one quarter and 29-19 at halftime.
"They got a lot of lane penetration," Plainfield East coach Branden Adkins said. "Our help side was not there. We weren't very aggressive to start and they were. They did a nice job of coming out in that zone and we were stagnant for some reason. It wasn't until the fourth quarter we decided to play a little bit and by that time it was too late."
The North Stars' zone held Jordan to 8 points in the first half. Just when he started to come alive in the third quarter, scoring five quick points to bring the Bengals within 31-27, senior Camden Cotter drew a charge for Jordan's third foul, and Adkins elected to sit his star with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
The North Stars capitalized with a 16-3 run, Erik Miller highlighting it with seven straight points coming in transition including a 3-point play. By the time Jordan came back in the game the North Stars had pushed their 4-point lead to 47-30.
"I thought we started with good energy," Poulin said. "I thought our zone, they had to adjust, and we got some transition baskets that allowed us to play with more confidence than you typically have in the first game of the season against a Top 25 team."
Jordan didn't go quietly in the fourth, scoring 8 of his game-high 23 points. The Bengals trimmed that 17-point deficit to 54-51 with 40 seconds left.
The North Stars didn't help themselves at the line, making 8 of 19. Alec Goetz, 1 of 4 at that point, hit a clutch pair to extend the lead to 56-51.
A 3 from Myles Ward brought the Bengals within 56-54 with 13 seconds left but they failed to foul the North Stars, and Tyler DeMoss ended the game with a lay-in for the 4-point win.
"We just didn't get it done, they didn't make the call," Adkins said. "There were other calls during the night that were less contact that were called. We should never put ourselves in that type of situation."
Besides Jordan's 23 points, no other Bengal had more than 11.
"He's going to get his," Poulin said. "I don't have anyone to put on him and say 'stop him.' He's a Division I basketball player."
The teams ended up pretty even statistically -- tied at 34 rebounds and the turnovers 11 to 10.
The North Stars were led by Ludwig's 21 points and 10 each from Goetz and Miller. Johnson, who brought the North Star fans to their feet with a tip dunk in the second quarter, grabbed a game-high 8 rebounds.
"You knew it was not going to remain that large of a difference," Poulin said. "I'm just glad to get the win."