Senior guard Anthony Delisi and the St. Charles North boys basketball team refused to let another one slip through their fingers at rival St. Charles East on Saturday.
A week after the North Stars were stunned by a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer from St. Charles East's Justin Hardy that won the Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Classic by a point, St. Charles North returned to the same court and won the Upstate Eight River opener for both teams 44-40, thanks to a determined defensive effort and dependable free-throw shooting down the stretch.
Delisi drained 5 of 6 freebies in the game's final 42 seconds. He split a pair from the line with 13.1 seconds left to give the North Stars an all-important 4-point lead.
St. Charles East subsequently missed a pair of 3-pointers at the other end, separated by a putback attempt. The final buzzer sounded and the North Stars mobbed one another in celebration at midcourt.
"I just kept thinking about how we lost last time," Delisi said of his poise at the free-throw line. "I didn't want to go through that whole thing again so I wanted to take their opportunity away."
The teams combined for 33 fewer points than their meeting seven days earlier. St. Charles North (4-1, 1-0) shot 35.6 from the field (16 of 45).
"There were streaks where we couldn't find a bucket," said 6-foot-5 North center Kyle King, "but we just kept battling and playing defense."
Meanwhile, the Saints made only 32 percent of their attempts (13 of 41), 12 percent from 3-point range (2 of 17).
It was the second straight loss for St. Charles East (4-2, 0-1), which dropped a 57-40 decision at West Aurora on Friday. The Saints shot 33 percent in that game (12 of 36).
"I think nerves played a factor," Saints coach Patrick Woods said of Saturday's shooting performance. "We're a team that gets contagious; once one starts making we all start making, and we haven't really hit that groove yet. But we've really only had six practices as a team. That's a big factor. It's disappointing, but I'm not jumping ship or anything."
A typically competitive game between these rivals was played in a 3-point window until the fourth quarter. The North Stars opened a 35-29 lead on the strength of a Delisi 3-pointer and an inside bucket from 6-foot-5 center Kyle King.
East junior Justin Hardy sparked a 6-0 run to again knot the contest. He scored 4 points and made a steal, which he forwarded to junior Alec Champine for a fast-break bucket.
The game was tied 37-37 when King scored on a feed from junior guard Zach Ludwig with two minutes to play. After a St. Charles East missed shot, Delisi was fouled and sank both bonus free throws for a 41-37 lead with 42 seconds remaining.
A Hardy three-point play drew the Saints within 41-40 with 31 seconds showing on the clock.
After Delisi made 2 bonus free throws with 15.5 seconds left to extend the lead to 43-40, the Saints committed a costly turnover on an inbound play when they threw the ball out of bounds untouched.
Delisi was immediately sent back to the line and split 2 free throws with 13.1 seconds left for what proved to be the final margin of victory.
"I thought we did a nice job defensively and on the glass when it mattered most," said St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin, whose team won the rebounding battled 32-23. "We did just enough offensively. Anthony Delisi kind of carried us down the stretch. It might not show up in the stat line but he just willed us to execution."
Delisi finished with 10 points and 4 assists and King contributed 10 points and 7 rebounds for the North Stars.
Hardy finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds, 6-3 senior guard Zach Mitchell had 9 points and 5 rebounds and 6-5 senior forward Jack Zylke added 7 first-quarter points for the Saints.