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St. Charles North could get used to this.
Until last year, the North Stars had never made the championship game of the Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament at St. Charles East.
After a convincing 67-46 win over Downers Grove South Friday night, the North Stars are headed to the championship game of the 55th annual tournament for a second straight year.
St. Charles North (3-0) will play St. Joseph (3-0) for the championship at 7:45 p.m. Saturday hoping to reverse a loss to St. Charles East in last year's final.
"I'm really proud of this group," North Stars coach Tom Poulin said. "They are happy with where they are but not satisfied. We've got to take care of tomorrow night.
"That would be something else for this group to begin the year that way. That would say a lot about who they are. It's a big deal to be in it two years in a row but it didn't feel real good last year to lose. It would be big for us as a program to win it."
Senior guard Alec Goetz led the North Stars with 20 points Friday.
"It's not surprising to us," Goetz said. "A lot of you guys underestimated us in the rankings and stuff. We just play as a group. That's one thing we do well this year. Nobody cares who scores. As long as we win that's all that matters."
The North Stars got another lift from their football-turned-basketball players. Senior Garrett Johnson, headed to Ball State for football and out for the basketball team for the first time in two years, scored 9 points and tied for the team lead with 6 rebounds.
"Actually I am pretty surprised," Johnson said of how quickly he's adjusted to basketball. "Honestly I feel it has a lot to do with the people around me. They do a good job of putting me in position to be successful. Especially me and Jack have a lot of chemistry."
That would be junior Jack Callaghan who tied Johnson with 6 rebounds and scored 10 points. He and Johnson found each other with several passes cutting to the hoop for easy scores. Callaghan's no-look pass to Johnson put the North Stars ahead 20 in the fourth quarter, and pretty soon both coaches started sitting their starters.
"Everyone is shaking a little rust off," Poulin said. "We're in the championship and we feel we haven't scratched the surface of what our potential is. Some of these guys haven't touched a basketball in awhile. They are just going to get better. They are going to make much more of an impact. Because of the makeup of our team I think we're just going to improve especially the guys who took a year or two off. We still haven't developed a true rotation yet. I think our best basketball is ahead of us."
The North Stars have played with the lead virtually the entire tournament. They never trailed Friday, tied just once at 2-2. Goetz broke that deadlock with a bucket, then moments later broke the game open with his 3-point shooting.
Goetz drained three in a row from well beyond the arc, giving the North Stars an 18-10 lead when he was finished. Goetz had 15 points by halftime.
"My teammates did a good job setting screens and we had a few reversals," Goetz said. "I like that shot a lot."
The Mustangs made one run early in the second quarter to pull within 20-18 on reserve Javon Turner's basket. This time it was the other half of the North Stars' backcourt, Jake Ludwig, who scored and was fouled. He missed the chance for a 3-point play, but the North Stars got the rebound and the ball found its way back to Ludwig who hit another shot for four quick points and a 24-18 lead.
By halftime the North Stars led 30-25 after the Mustangs' Paul Engo III sank a corner 3 at the buzzer to bring his team within 5. The North Stars came out on fire in the second half scoring the first 13 points to push the lead to 43-25.
Four different players scored the first four baskets -- a trademark on the young season.
"The guys are getting a little bit better with each game," Poulin said. "They are playing as a team on both ends. I thought we played better as the game went on."
Poulin cleared his deep bench -- 19 players this year -- and Luke Dunteman and Johnny Davern put their names in the scoring column to close the scoring. Eleven North Stars scored.
Engo III led the Mustangs with 17 points.