Mitchell's game-winner lifts Saints over Wheaton N.
Byline: Eric Bridges Daily Herald Correspondent
St. Charles East won a thriller at home against their DuKane Conference rival Wheaton North Friday night, surviving the final 23.7 seconds with a 2-point lead when the Falcons' several attempts at heroics ended up unanswered.
The Saints defeated the Falcons 58-56 on a 3-foot hook shot by senior Cody Mitchell.
"We went in at halftime and made some adjustments, and focused on cutting down on the turnovers," Mitchell said. "We knew we had to come out in the second half. We struggled closing games out in the month of January, so I'm really proud of the way we closed out. Every game in this conference is going to be a battle."
The Saints' (17-12, 8-5) biggest lead came at the end of the first quarter when Nate Ortiz's 3-pointer put them up 16-12.
The Falcons (16-12, 8-5) tied the game 22-22 early in the second quarter on back-to-back layups by Jacob Schauer and a one-handed dunk by Deng Reng. Another layup by Schauer gave the Falcons a 2-point lead, but Luke Matheny canned a 3-pointer, and Mitchell added a dunk of his own to put the Saints back up 27-24.
"With the crowd there it's always a good feeling (to dunk)," Mitchell said. "I was coming down the lane, Luke (Matheny) got me the pass. It was the right moment, the right time."
The game was tied at the half 31-31, and both teams stepped up their defensive pressure in the third quarter, finishing with the Saints up 44-42.
The Saints held a 56-53 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Reng was fouled in back-to-back possessions and hit three of four free throws to tie the game 56-56 with 39 seconds left.
Coach Patrick Woods called for a play that gave the Saints two choices -- Ortiz for a 3 if he's open or Mitchell inside to work the floor. With Ortiz covered well, Mitchell received the ball, dribbled in slightly, and banked in the hook shot from three feet away for the eventual winning shot.
"We had Nate Ortiz for the 3 if he had it and if not we had Cody Mitchell on the post," Woods said. "It was a great win for sure. They played hard and we were able to survive their onslaught at the end, so it was a great team win. It was tied at the half, so it was a battle the entire game. I'm really happy with the way we persevered at the end."
Falcons coach Dave Brackmann credited the Saints defense for closing out the game in the end.
"They (Saints) were all over our shooters the entire game," Brackmann said. "We were trying to get it into Reng on the inside, but they had it covered very well. They're a super talented team. They came out on senior night and responded time and time again all night. We knew it was going to come down to a possession, unfortunately, we didn't come out on top. I thought we played well too, and I told our guys that."