With first-place medals dangling from their necks Monday, the St. Edward boys basketball players quickly organized themselves in two rows following their 63-53 victory over Evergreen Park so parents and friends could photograph them with the championship trophy of the IC Catholic Prep/Westmont Christmas Tournament.
It was St. Edward's third tournament championship of the season's first half, so they all knew the drill.
"It's unbelievable. It's just awesome," said senior guard John Butzow, whose team previously won the Thanksgiving tournament at Westminster Christian and a post-Thanksgiving tournament at Aurora Christian. "We've been working really hard in practice every single day and it pays off."
The 10th and final lead change of the game came on Butzow's 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 4:22 to play, which staked St. Edward to a 46-44 lead.
Evergreen Park (3-6) had been playing a 2-3 zone defense all game long but switched to man-to-man midway through the fourth quarter. That adjustment actually favored quick St. Edward junior guard Joe French, who followed Butzow's 3-pointer by taking his man off the dribble for a short jump shot from the lane.
The Mustangs missed a 3-pointer at the other end, and junior Nick Duffy hauled in 1 of his 9 rebounds. French then capitalized by penetrating and dishing to wide-open forward Danny Favela under the basket for an easy layup, capping a 7-0 run that put St. Edward into the driver's seat 50-44 with 2:41 to play.
"I love playing against man-to-man because I know I can get a lot of good looks," said French, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. "And when I get in the lane, I can either pass it off or finish with runners over the front of the rim. They were staying close, so I knew it was time to start a run. I just kind of took over and we all played well."
Evergreen Park gamely pulled within 53-50 on junior Jordan Brown's second consecutive 3-pointer, but French hit 2 bonus free throws and Favela made a steal and passed ahead to senior DaVontae Elam for a breakaway layup and a 57-50 lead with 1:17 on the clock.
St. Edward won the turnover battle 16-8 and turnaround its rebounding totals in the second half. The Mustangs had outrebounded the Wave 15-11 in the first half, but St. Edward finished the second half with a 12-9 rebounding edge.
"We knew at halftime they were getting a lot of their points from rebounds, so we knew we had to box out," Butzow said. "That was the big thing."
St. Edward ends the 2013 portion of its schedule with only 1 loss. That came at Montini, a team they had previously beaten at Aurora Christian.
"I'm tickled to death," St. Edward coach and athletic director P.J. White said. "I thought we'd have a few losses. We've played really good teams and we've played well. The kids are talented and they're working so hard.
"We've averaged playing nine guys a game with a lot of minutes. Our goal is to play 10 a game and we do that a lot. That's the whole thing. We have a lot of guys who can play and we don't really have a drop-off when we put someone else in."
Duffy finished with 12 points and Elam had 10 points and 4 rebounds for the Green Wave, a team with even larger goals for the 2014 portion of its schedule.
"We've had a great season so far, but we're not even close to being finished yet," French said. "We just have to stay together and keep pushing."
Harvest Christian 69, Faith Lutheran 44: John Vislisel had 29 points and 8 rebounds to lead the Lions (5-8) to a second-place finish at the Alden-Hebron tournament. Dan Turpin and Noah Fox added 10 points each.
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