With standout point guard Dom Adduci on the bench icing a sprained left ankle and backup point guard Cole Gentry disqualified with 5 fouls, St. Charles East sophomore Evan DiLeonardi came off the bench and supplied the defensive play the Saints needed in a 69-63 Upstate Eight River victory at Chesbrough Field House.
The late-charging Maroons trimmed their 19-point, third-quarter deficit to 62-61 with 2:29 to play on a Desmond Sanders bank shot, courtesy of Isaiah Butler's steal,
Gentry answered with 2 free throws to give the Saints a 3-point lead just before he committed his fifth foul.
DiLeonardi then re-entered and found himself guarding the dynamic Butler, who fueled Elgin's comeback by scoring 7 of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Helped by AJ Washington's double-team on the perimeter, DiLeonardi was able to knock down a pressured Butler pass before Elgin could attempt a potential game-tying shot.
"A.J. came and cut (Butler) off, so he turned the other way because we were doubling him," DiLeonardi said. "I knew he was going over the top because he'd already left his feet, so I just put my hand up and got it."
"Evan is a great defender, pretty incredible," sophomore teammate James McQuillan said. "We knew without our two point guards we had to pick it up somewhere."
McQuillan subsequently drained 2 free throws to make it a 5-point cushion. Elgin (9-15, 4-8) missed 3 shots on its next possession and the Saints finished off the win by sinking 3 of 4 free-throw attempts in the final 26 seconds.
Combined with Geneva's 61-51 win at St. Charles North, the victory helped St. Charles East (14-11, 8-4) finish in a three-way tie for second place in the UEC River with the Vikings and North Stars, 4 games behind undefeated champion Larkin.
Elgin outscored the Saints 41-30 in the second half, but it wasn't enough to offset a 39-22 halftime deficit.
"If we don't bring more intensity than the opponent, we're going to get run and that's what happened in the first half," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "They came out and attacked us. It's like we were a prizefighter and we waited until we got punched in the face to realize we were in a fight."
St. Charles East shot 43 percent from the field (25 of 58) but blistered the nets at a 56-percent clip from 3-point range (9 of 16). McQuillan (15 points) and junior Jake Asquini each sank three 3-pointers.
Adduci rolled his left ankle on a transition drive to the basket with 2:47 left in the first quarter and his team leading 11-6. He suffered what Woods called a "low-grade ankle sprain" and did not return.
"There was no reason to put him back in the game, although I'm sure he wanted to try to tape it up and that," Woods said. "There's just no reason at this point for him to play until he's healthy. Hopefully, he'll be healthy in two weeks."
Junior Mick Vyzral scored 12 points and Washington added 10 as four players cracked double-digit scoring for St. Charles East, which hosts Riverside-Brookfield at 6 p.m.
Sophomore Lavion Baldwin scored 16 points and grabbed 5 rebounds and Sanders and Desmond Douglas each finished with 8 points for the Maroons. Elgin hosts a nonconference game against Glenbard South on Tuesday.