The Upstate Eight River Division hasn't been kind to Geneva in the early going this season, but holiday tournaments seem to put the Vikings in a nice comfort zone.
Acting upon coach Phil Ralston's call for a more solid first quarter than what his team has posted the past few games, the Vikings responded with a rousing start and no-doubt-about-it finish in posting a 63-36 victory over Oak Lawn in the opening game of East Aurora's holiday basketball tournament.
Geneva (9-3) raced out to a 12-2 lead on its way to a 23-7 first-quarter lead and put things into cruise control the rest of the way behind Nate Navigato's game-high 25 points.
The Vikings won their Thanksgiving tournament in West Chicago to start the season, but have dropped conference games to Larkin and St. Charles East.
When Oak Lawn (1-5) tried to gain some traction with solid efforts in the second and third quarters, the Spartans found themselves trailing only 39-27 late in the third.
But Navigato drove baseline for a two-handed jam and followed that up with two 3-point bombs to quickly bolt his team to a 47-27 lead entering the final quarter.
"We talked about our one emphasis today was that we needed to jump out early," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "We have not won the first quarter of a game since we played Batavia, and that was the beginning of this month."
The Vikings made sure they weren't going to be slow out of the gate in this contest, but Ralston said there were spots that needed improvement in Geneva's overall game.
"I hate to complain about anything tonight, but there were times when our defense was really good, but we had stretches where we played great defense for 30 seconds and then we would break down," Ralston said.
"Sustained defense, I think, is an area where we need to improve," he added.
With the game well in hand throughout, Geneva had to deal with only one uneasy moment. It came at the start of the third quarter when Navigato accidentally elbowed guard Chris Parrilli square in the nose during a scrap for a rebound.
Both players went down, and Parrilli was helped off the court with a towel covering up a nose that looked like it had taken a straight overhand right in the boxing ring.
"That collision was pretty nasty, but their trainer said it was just a bloody nose," Ralston said.
"With Parrilli, maybe breaking his nose would help him because he said he's never been able to breath out of his nose anyway," Ralston joked.
Parrilli figures he will be fine for the rest of the tournament, especially when Geneva gets right back at it against Hubbard at 4 p.m. Friday.
"Nate smacked me pretty good, and I felt blood coming out," Parrilli said. "Hopefully, it's not broken and will be fine tomorrow."
Geneva doesn't want to lose Parrilli's aggressive style on the court, which was evident again in compiling 11 points, two steals and three assists while also playing smothering defense.
"You have to give it your all no matter who you are playing," Parrilli said. "Even if you are winning the game (by a wide margin), you have to keep working on the stuff you know you need to get better at."
It helps Geneva to have an offensive player like Navigato to lean on. The 6-7 junior was a consistent thorn in Oak Lawn's side before finally going to bench after scoring a layup after a nifty steal and pass from Pace Temple for a 53-28 lead midway through the final quarter.
"I knew if I could get myself going, by hitting a three or something like, it would get my whole game going," Navigato said. "I got that dunk, which really led to the outside game.
"Every team has letdowns during a game in which it is in total command," Navigato said. "When the other team gets a couple of scores, you just get yourself right back into it."
Geneva's largest lead sat at 61-33 after a Stephen Moyer layup in the game's waning moments.
"We pride ourselves on shutting down the other team's offense and holding them under 40 points," Ralston said. "That was a mission tonight and we accomplished that."
Oak Lawn coach Jason Rhodes knew the odds were against his team to begin with it, but he wanted a more focused first quarter from his squad.
"On the whole, our team has to come out with a little more sense of urgency to start the game," Rhodes said. "We settled down a little bit after an early timeout, but it doesn't matter what I draw up or what I say. If the kids don't come out ready to play, it will be tough for us to compete, especially against a team we give up so much size to."
Mitch Swatek led the Spartans with 13 points mostly on outside shots, while David Stacy added 12 on a series of drives to the basket.
Geneva shot 49 percent from the floor in making 24 of 49 shots, while Oak Lawn struggled at 36 percent on 15-of-41 shooting.