Geneva coach Phil Ralston wanted to see what his player were made of. The answer came when the Vikings turned back the host school's best shot to win the 48th annual East Aurora Holiday Tournament.
Riding the hot 3-point shooting of East's Delvion Pugh -- "he hit one from almost another area code," Ralston said -- the Tomcats pulled within a point with 4:44 left in the game.
Ralston called timeout, then Geneva scored the next 6 points to cool the Tomcats' jets. Geneva (12-3) went on to win 61-52, capturing the program's first Christmas title since 2008 at DeKalb while Ralston celebrated his 100th victory at Geneva.
"I was actually happy to see that they did make a run at us, because I wanted to see how our guys were going to withstand that," Ralston said. "And for them to cut it to 1 and all of a sudden you've got their whole crowd into it, and their focus, it got loud in here. Our guys didn't blink."
Countering Fred Reynolds' reverse layup that cut Geneva's lead to 48-47, after Ralston's timeout and a miss by each team, Geneva's Justin Durante swished a 17-footer to silence the local fans, who along with East Aurora (4-9) pulled together following last week's death of assistant coach Troy Smith.
"The stadium was just going nuts," Durante said, "and to hit a shot in such a big game like that in such a big atmosphere, it just felt absolutely amazing. It really got our guys going again and that timeout really helped us, it helped settle us down."
Point guard Cam Cook snagged 2 defensive rebounds and post Mike Landi backed in on East's Jonathan Villezcas for a basket for a 52-47 Vikings lead. The Tomcats were reduced to fouling and Geneva barely missed, 9-for-10 from the stripe over the last 1:20.
"You could see the desperation when they were down 5 where they had to make a play and they had three or four possessions in a row where they didn't," Ralston said.
It was a game pitting East Aurora's uptempo mentality against Geneva's patient offense and variety of defensive looks. At one point Pace Temple and Chris Parrilli each shadowed an East Aurora shooter while three Vikings played zone.
The Vikings clicked early when after leading 15-13 after one quarter, first-team all-tourney selection Nate Navigato made all 5 of his second-quarter shots from in the paint to help the Vikings lead 29-23 at halftime.
Navigato led all scorers with 21 points; Durante scored 13 while Cook grabbed 6 rebounds and had 6 assists. Parrilli, also a first-team pick, added 6 points while Temple had 7 and Landi scored 8 with 8 rebounds.
"We knew that if we got in a run-and-gun match with them we wouldn't have come up on top. So we needed to slow the game down," Navigato said.
"It's not that difficult when you're making shots," said East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries of his plan. "For the most part we got it at our tempo there in the first half, then we started missing shots."
He hoped someone stepped up, and Pugh did. He scored 18 points all on 3-pointers. Reynolds added 10.
Navigato was named the tournament's most valuable player.
"It feels great," said the junior forward. "I wouldn't have done it without my teammates, they're everything."