It was a somber group of Stevenson players who exited the locker room Saturday afternoon.
Determined to make amends for a 20-point loss to Zion-Benton on Nov. 29 and hopeful of extending their winning streak to 10 games, the Patriots outplayed the Zee-Bees in every facet of the game while fashioning a 21-16 halftime advantage.
But while Zion righted its ship in the second half of the North Suburban Lake Division contest, Stevenson went adrift. The result was a 48-35 victory for the host Zee-Bees (11-2, 7-0), who now hold a 2-game division lead over the Patriots (9-5, 5-2).
"It's unfortunate that the game is 32 minutes long," said Stevenson coach Tom Dineen. "We had a very, very good first half, and then in the second half we just stopped competing. It's disappointing and embarrassing."
Zion-Benton turned it around by scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter, flawlessly executing its offense and upping its defensive pressure. Following a brief spurt by the Pats, the Zee-Bees rattled off another 8 straight points to take a 36-25 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the third stanza. Stevenson could get no closer than 8 the rest of the way.
"We didn't look that good in the first half," said Zion coach Tanya Johnson. "We were getting beat playing Stevenson's game. Slowing it down and being deliberate is not our style. But we came out with a lot more intensity in the second half. We were much more aggressive and started hitting our shots."
Freshman guard TT Maggett scored 12 of her game-high 15 points for the Zee-Bees in the second half, while junior Samantha Rodriguez and senior Syerra Cunningham survived foul trouble to tally 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Five seconds into the game, the Patriots took a 2-0 lead on a layup by sophomore guard Sophia Way, who then scored 6 points in an 8-0 second-quarter run -- including her team's only 3-pointer of the day -- to put Zion in a 17-11 hole with 2:06 to play before intermission. Way's drive and nifty scoop shot at the buzzer closed out the half with Stevenson up by 5, but the second half was a much different story.
"We just lost our intensity and the aggressiveness we had in the first half, even though we came in knowing how important this game was," said Way, who scored all 12 of her team-high points in the first half. "But this will be a big learning experience for everybody on the team. We learned a lesson about competitiveness and about not giving up."
Dineen refused to use tiredness as an excuse for the second-half demise of his team, which also played Friday night.
"I know I only played five kids, but we've played enough games that it shouldn't matter at this point," he said. "In the first half, we defended well and were aggressive and came up with loose balls and knocked down some shots.
"But we made too many careless mistakes and didn't make our shots in the second half. They (Zee-Bees) were dribbling the ball all over and running time off the clock and we weren't doing anything about it. But I was very happy with Paige Freudenberg. She played her butt off -- all 100 pounds of her -- and competed hard for us the whole game."
Freudenberg scored in each quarter for her 8 points, while Alex Elzinga contributed 7 points and Kari Moffat added 6.
"We came out with a lot of heart and ready to play, but it just didn't last," Freudenberg said. "This game will definitely make us stronger. We can only go up from here."