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Stevenson boys basketball coach Pat Ambrose emerged from an emotional postgame talk with his players short of breath, his tie loosened and his hair a bit sloppy.
A mentally and physically draining season for the Patriots continued Tuesday night, and this time there were only things to celebrate.
Stevenson's 59-53 victory over host Lake Forest in a key North Suburban Lake Division battle — highlighted by sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson's career-high 35 points — was just one reason why smiles were pouring out of the visitors locker room.
"I just kept attacking," Brunson said. "Once I get it going, I have the mind set where I'm in the zone — 'Keep pushing until they stop you.' That didn't happen, so I kept stepping on the gas."
Stevenson improved to 6-2 overall and 2-2 in the NSC Lake. Lake Forest has the identical records, but the Scouts suffered what might be a serious injury, as 6-foot-7 sophomore star Evan Boudreaux rolled his right ankle late in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the court.
Stevenson led from late in the first half on, but Lake Forest never trailed by double digits.
"We've been talking this week about celebrating successes, or celebrating little things, when we have a chance," Ambrose said. "Tonight, we celebrate a win, but we also celebrate some other things that happened. We were pretty fired up in that locker room."
Stevenson junior Matt Morrissey was offered a football scholarship from the University of Illinois, Ambrose said, and a couple of seniors were accepted by the college of their choice.
And while Brunson was dynamite all night, shooting 9 of 19 from the floor and 15 of 19 from the foul line, Ambrose was also quick to note the contributions of seniors Adam Cohen and Jack Duffy, who are typically unsung.
"Everyone plays a role, and (Brunson) happened to have the scoring role tonight," Ambrose said. "Jack Duffy and Adam Cohen happened to have the defensive role. I'm just as proud of them."
At the start of the season, Ambrose's father-in-law passed away. More recently, Cohen lost his grandfather.
"We just had some tough times, but got through it," Ambrose said. "The kids are doing a great job."
Despite going up against the formidable duo of Boudreaux and 6-9 Sam Downey, the goggles-wearing Cohen (6-4) and Duffy (6-3) held their own. Connor Cashaw (9 points) grabbed 8 rebounds, as the Patriots outrebounded the Scouts 31-29. Brunson hustled for 6 boards.
Downey had 17 points and 5 rebounds, while Boudreaux collected 11 points and 7 boards. Guard Ben Simpson (13 points) also scored in double figures for the Scouts.
"It was a battle," said Cohen, who had 4 steals and scored on a putback in the fourth quarter. "Defensively, we tried getting around in front and hoping to get help on the backside. Rebounding was just a team effort. It was physical."
"We just had to dig deep, scrap it out and box out as hard as we could," Duffy said. "Sometimes we just had to take our man out of the play and not even go for the rebound and hope that the guards could lock up their men and grab it."
Brunson's pullup 3-pointer rolled around and in to beat the first-quarter buzzer, giving him 9 points and extending Stevenson's lead to 14-10. The Patriots were up 25-22 at the half, with Brunson tallying 17 points.
"There are things that he can do that I've never seen happen before," Duffy said. "I've never played with a player like that."
Brunson added 8 points in the third quarter and then dominated from the stripe in the fourth, going 8 of 9. Lake Forest got within four points three times in the final 1:09, but each time the Patriots hit a pair of free throws to go back up by six. Brunson did that twice and Cashaw the final time.
"You want to stop (Brunson), but you want to stop the other guys, too," Lake Forest coach Phil LaScala said. "He makes everybody better, and he did that tonight. He's a special player.
Lake Forest committed 19 turnovers, struggling against Stevenson's pressure.
"Jack (Duffy) definitely played great 'D,' " Brunson said. "For his position, he's kind of undersized, but he played a heck of a great defense on Downey and Boudreaux. And Adam (Cohen) played tremendous defense too. They both performed tonight."