It took the perfect play, perfect pass and perfect shot from just inside half court to decide the 58th annual St. Charles East Ron Johnson Thanksgiving tournament championship game Saturday night.
Justin Hardy caught a 50-foot pass from Zach Mitchell and turned and swished about a 30-footer at the buzzer for a 59-58 Saints thriller over rival St. Charles North.
The shot, which hit nothing but net, capped a 27-point night for the junior, who took home tournament MVP honors.
"I've hit a couple game-winners but nothing like that," Hardy said. "Arch-rival, packed gym, from 28 feet, I haven't had one of those before."
The Saints only had 2.1 seconds left with the ball under their own basket trailing 58-56.
Mitchell -- who doubles as the quarterback on the Saints' Class 7A quarterfinalists -- lofted a pass that Hardy caught after St. Charles North's Anthony Delisi jumped for the ball but couldn't deflect.
Hardy turned, fired, and drilled the shot. In an instant, he was mobbed by the St. Charles East student section along with his own teammates.
"That's exactly how we drew it up," Hardy said. "We just got lucky. Delisi jumped for the ball, left it in my hands. I just chucked it up as soon as I got it. I knew it had a chance. I wasn't sure it was going to fall. It got up there and looked good. Splashed down the net."
It didn't seem early like St. Charles East (4-0) would need such dramatics to win its own tourney. Nate Ortiz came off the bench to score all 11 of his points in the first half including three 3-pointers all from left corner, and the Saints never trailed in taking a 38-28 halftime lead.
Delisi sparked the comeback for St. Charles North (3-1), starting on the first play of the third quarter with a steal of the inbounds pass he took in for a layup. Delisi finished with 16 points, 8 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds.
Within 47-41 after three quarters, the North Stars kept pushing, taking their first lead of the game 52-50 on a 3-point play by Cade Callaghan with 3:50 left.
After Hardy tied the game, Callaghan again put the North Stars up only to see Hardy drain 2 free throws to make it 54-54 at 2:12.
Delisi found King (14 points, 12 rebounds) inside for a 56-54 lead. The North Stars got the ball back and tried to stall, but Hardy came up with a steal and assisted Jack Zylke for a layup and a 56-56 tie with :20.7 remaining.
King again scored inside for a 58-56 North Stars lead with :6.3 left. Hardy missed a 1-and-1 that could have tied the game, but Tyler Nubin also missed a 1-and-1 for the North Stars, setting up the Hardy game-winner.
Saints coach Patrick Woods said Hardy's shot reminded him of a half-courter that won a game while he coached at Ridgewood.
"I'm just glad it happened tonight," Woods said. "Justin was a monster, Zach threw a great pass, we just executed perfectly.
"A little too dramatic for me. We've only had really three practices as a team because of our football guys did so well. I expect a lot from us. We have a lot of stuff to clean up."
The North Stars have now lost two straight heartbreakers to the Saints on buzzer-beaters after JT Ford did the trick last year on a last-second shot, albeit about 20 feet closer. They won't have to wait long for a chance at revenge; the teams play next Saturday.
Erik Larson added 14 points for the North Stars, all in the first half. He made four 3-pointers.
"It's tough," North Stars coach Tom Poulin said. "A low-percentage shot beat us. That kid (Hardy) had a heck of a game.
"Great game, really good game. Couple bad breaks that didn't go our way but I couldn't be more proud of our guys' second half the way we battled. We had the game in our hands. We need to execute better with the lead."