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Purdue-bound St. Charles East senior Kendall Stephens has always shown flashes of his brilliance leading up to his senior season.
If his performance in helping the Saints win their own Ron Johnson Tournament for the first time in over 30 years is any indication, he has turned those flashes into bona fide star power.
The tournament MVP scored 30 points to lead the Saints to a 61-42 win over crosstown rival St. Charles North in Saturday’s tournament championship game.
“As I told Kendall yesterday, it’s sort of the Kendall Stephens I’ve been waiting for since he got here,” East coach Patrick Woods said. “I think he showed spurts of it last year, but he’s had four rock-solid games. He’s putting together a year where if we keep up this pace, Mr. Basketball is not out of the realm of possibility, nor is All-State. You can’t even tell he’s hurt. It’s crazy.”
Despite nursing a torn labrum in his shoulder, Stephens was brilliant against the North Stars (3-1) Saturday. He shot 9-for-16 from the field, including 4-of-7 shooting from three-point range, and hit 8-of-10 free throws en route to his 30 points. He hit a three-pointer to open the game and his driving layup gave East (4-0) a 10-1 lead at the outset. He wound up scoring 10 points in the first quarter.
“After the last three games, we’ve been getting confidence every game and we came out wanting to get the first punch,” Stephens said. “We hit them hard with a 10-1 run. We just made sure we were patient with our offense and we did a great job of maintaining it.”
Stephens had another stretch of domination in the third, scoring seven straight points on three consecutive possessions to give the Saints a 35-19 lead. But North hung around, cutting the lead to 41-32 early in the fourth quarter before East was able to right the ship and cruise to the win.
“We didn’t play well at all,” North coach Tom Poulin said. “We didn’t run our stuff. We didn’t do what we did to get us to the championship game. I guess we have to go through a game like this to learn from it and move on.”
Loyola-bound senior Quinten Payne did his best to keep the North Stars afloat on a night when they shot a collective 1-for-17 from three-point range.
Payne scored a team-high 22 points. Alec Goetz added 11 for North.
Dom Adduci battled foul trouble and two sore ankles to score 10 points for East.
The Saints know the road gets no easier; their next game is against the team that handed them their worst loss a year ago, Larkin, but they also feel like they made a statement.
“It’s just awesome,” Stephens said. “The 1970s is the last time we won it, so it’s just great to show that St. Charles East has basketball. Now we have a tradition.”