Kory Brown strapped the Elgin boys basketball team to his back in the third quarter, and the rest of the Maroons had his back in the fourth quarter of a tense 57-52 victory over Kendall Stephens-led St. Charles East in the Class 4A St. Charles North title game Friday night.
No. 2 St. Charles East (15-13) jumped to a 10-0 lead and still held a 30-26 advantage early in the third quarter. Then Brown went off. The 6-foot-4 uncommitted forward scored 10 of his 24 points in a 3:19 span to power a game-changing 13-2 run, a surge that staked the top-seeded Maroons to a 37-32 lead.
"Every board that came off the rim I grabbed and took off down court," said Brown, who finished with 12 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. "I was either getting fouled or I was getting the bucket."
No. 2 St. Charles East answered with a huge fourth quarter from Stephens, a Purdue recruit. The 6-foot-5 junior forward erupted for 12 of his team-high 24 points in the final eight minutes to keep the Saints in contention. Stephens missed all 4 shots he attempted in the third quarter, but he sank 5 of his first 6 shots in the final period.
"That's what it should be about in a regional championship," said Stephens, who finished with 12 rebounds and 2 steals. "Your top players should be leaders, dictate the game, get open shots for your teammates. It just so happened that we kept going back and forth. It was a great game to play and it had to be fun to watch. We battled."
Brown was held to 1 point in the fourth quarter, but Elgin's other four starters scored at least 2 points with the floor spread, and reserves Matt Andres (7 points) and Devin Gilliam contributed timely buckets to lift Elgin (25-3).
"Kory did a phenomenal job the first three quarters, but we're a true team" said Elgin point guard Arie Williams, who scored 7 of his 14 points in the final period. "When it comes down to that fourth quarter, when it comes down to crunchtime, we all contributed in different ways and made it happen."
The regional title is Elgin's 42nd overall, second straight and third in five seasons under the direction of coach Mike Sitter. The Maroons advance to a Dundee-Crown sectional semifinal against McHenry (12-15) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The Warriors defeated Crystal Lake South 51-44 to win the Cary-Grove regional.
As has been the custom this season when Elgin has won hardware, tri-captains Brown, Williams and Dennis Moore let other teammates accept the regional plaque.
"I didn't let my captains accept the trophy because that's not the one we want," Sitter said. "I didn't let them take the Christmas trophy. I didn't let them take the Thanksgiving trophy. Those aren't the ones we want. A week from now I'll let my captains accept that one. That's our goal right there, a sectional championship. And that starts Wednesday night. We've got to get to work and get better."
St. Charles East twice whittled Elgin's 7-point third-quarter lead to a point in the fourth quarter, thanks to Stephens baskets. His long 2-pointer from the right wing drew the Saints within 46-45 with 5:27 to play.
However, Williams sandwiched an old-fashioned three-point play and a jump shot from the free throw line around another Stephens bucket to keep Elgin ahead 51-47 with 3:44 left.
Brown then came up with a key turnover, grabbing a loose ball. Gerardo Mojica capitalized seconds later with a drive from the left wing. The senior's left-handed layup put Elgin ahead 53-47 with 2:49 remaining.
The Saints pulled within 55-52 when John Hondlik buried his second 3-pointer of the game with 57 seconds left in the game, and St. Charles East regained possession after Williams missed a bonus free throw with 46 ticks on the clock
However, Brown came up with another big play for Elgin. Playing with 4 fouls, he elevated and rejected the shot of 6-6 senior Luke Ludke, who attempted to drive the lane.
"That play is designed for me to cut to the hoop," Ludke said. "I knew we were down 3. If I could have made that shot, we could have fouled them and still been in it. (Brown) is a real good player."
"We needed a stop to get the ball back," Brown said. "I went right into it like I was just playing ball and I had no fouls. I kept my body away and got the ball, and we finished it up."
Brown was subsequently fouled and split 2 free throws to make it a 2-possession game with 23 seconds left.
St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods lauded the effort his team in a losing cause.
"We battled and fought and had ourselves in position," said the first-year Saints coach. "It just didn't work out this time, unfortunately. I thought we managed the game real well, I thought we managed our fouls well and Kendall showed everyone who he was and what he's about. We were right there. We came out ready to play.
"There's really not much I can attribute this to except a couple of possessions where we had turnovers in the end after we turned them over. I think that hurt us a little bit."
Adduci finished with 10 points and 2 steals and Hondlik contributed 10 points and 5 rebounds in his final game for the Saints.