When St. Charles East played rival St. Charles North in early December, the Saints couldn't buy a bucket from 3-point range.
On Tuesday, they seldom missed.
St. Charles East looked like a different boys basketball team in handing the North Stars a 67-57 defeat in their own gym, bombing away from the perimeter with impunity through the first three quarters of a surprisingly easy Upstate Eight River road win.
Through three periods the Saints drilled 12 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc, led by 3 apiece from juniors Justin Hardy and Alec Champine and sophomore call-up Charles Murphy.
How did St. Charles East (14-7, 6-2) gain so many quality outside looks against St. Charles North (13-5, 5-3) this time around?
"Mostly dribble penetration," said Hardy, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. "Every time we could get someone into the lane, the defense would collapse and we'd kick out to our shooters in the corners. They have really heavy help line, too, so when the ball was on the opposite side of the floor it just left us open."
It was a markedly improved shooting performance compared to the last time the Saints faced the North Stars. In a 44-40 loss on December 3, they made only 2 of 17 attempts from 3-point range.
It was the third time the teams have met this season. East also defeated North 59-58 in the final of the Ron Johnson Thankgsiving Tournament on Nov. 26.
"First of all, congratulations to them. They beat us soundly," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "They defended harder, they played smarter, they shared the ball better.
"I'm very disappointed in our defense. We made an awful lot of mistakes not even related to game plan, just fundamental man-to-man defense. We required help every time we guarded the basketball. They were able to go where they wanted, they were able to force us to have to help and then they kicked out. We pretty much had them running their shooting drills: drive and kick, make the extra pass. They played real well, we didn't play real well."
The Saints made their move in the second quarter. Leading 13-10, they outscored the North Stars 19-13 on the strength of two 3-pointers apiece from Hardy and Murphy. East made 7 of 16 first-half 3-point attempts and 11 of 21 shots from the field.
"We just kept moving the ball around," said Murphy, a transfer from Louisiana who joined the varsity at Christmas. "That's what coach's mentality is: just keep passing the ball to get even better looks."
Meanwhile, the North Stars took only 6 second-quarter shots, limited by 6 turnovers.
"We were really focused on having active hands, trying to deflect all those passes," Hardy said. "Even when they did get it through, we were double teaming (Kyle) King and were just walling up when he puts shots up."
East continued its torrid shooting pace in the third quarter, making 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Champine nailed three 3-pointers, including shots from the right corner on consecutive possessions that staked his team to a 47-29 lead with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
The North Stars came alive in the fourth quarter to outscore the Saints 20-15 on 8-of-16 shooting, but it wasn't enough to overcome three quarters of vulnerable defense.
"They got us scrambling and that's their game," Poulin said. "We allowed them to play their game."
King finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds and senior guard Anthony Delisi had 16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals for the North Stars, who play road games this weekend at Elgin and St. Joseph.
Zach Mitchell had 15 points for the Saints, including a pair of 3-pointers, Champine finished with 11, Murphy had 9 and Zach Robinson and Nathan Ortiz each had 7 points.