Stevenson's boys basketball team makes opponents pay.
With Jalen Brunson, who's a big-money player.
With "Cash" (Connor Cashaw).
And, Tuesday night, with Nichols.
"We got a bunch of great scorers on the team, so I've never really needed to score," Patriots forward Parker Nichols said. "But when an opportunity comes, I'm willing to take a shot."
The 6-foot-5 junior took Stevenson's first two shots against host Lake Zurich, made them both, including a 3-pointer to open the North Suburban Lake Division contest, and the Patriots never looked back en route to a 78-55 win.
Nichols later drained another 3 and finished with a season-high 8 points on 3-of-3 shooting from the floor, as Stevenson ran its record to 19-1 and 7-1 in the NSC Lake heading into Friday night's first-place showdown at home against Zion-Benton.
Nichols had scored just 6 points in Stevenson's last five games.
"He's very capable," Patriots coach Pat Ambrose said of his second-year varsity player. "He's a nice kid, works hard and can stretch the defense a little with his shooting. He's a nice complement to the other players because if (opposing teams) sag off him, he'll make them pay."
Brunson made Lake Zurich (14-11, 3-6) pay all night, as the junior guard finished with a game-high 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting (three 3-pointers), 7 steals, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Cashaw scored 19 points, shooting 8 of 12 from the floor, and Matt Johnson notched all 14 of his points in the first half in helping Stevenson build a 51-29 advantage.
Mike Travlos led Lake Zurich with 18 points, going 10 of 11 from the stripe. Jeff Zahery added 11 points coming off the bench, and Will McClaughry scored 10 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Bears guard Matt Moon had the unenviable task of trying to guard Brunson.
"He's a really good player," Moon said. "He's smart, he's quick and he's a good shooter. He can beat you a lot of different ways."
After Nichols opened the scoring, Brunson delivered a beautiful bounce pass through the lane and through traffic, and the recipient dropped the ball in the basket.
"I get (passes like that) all the time in practice," Nichols said. "It doesn't really surprise me anymore. You got to be ready whenever Jalen has the ball."
When Johnson hit a 3-pointer, Stevenson had an 8-0 lead with just two minutes gone in the game.
Timeout, Lake Zurich.
"I hated having to call a timeout there, but they can just blitz you," Bears coach Billy Pitcher said. "Our staff said they're like the Miami Heat. They can score so quickly. They turn turnovers and rebounds into points just instantly. You got to take good shots, and you got to take care of the ball. I was just disappointed we made some bad decisions."
Cashaw beat the first-quarter buzzer with a pullup jumper in the lane, extending Stevenson's lead to 26-10. The Patriots shot 11 of 15 from the field in the opening eight minutes, while forcing Lake Zurich into half of its 10 first-half turnovers.
"I think we were really trying to stop Jalen," Moon said. "But then he gets to the lane and he can get some other guys going with some open 3s. When the surrounding cast of his is knocking down shots, it's pretty tough."
Stevenson will see Lake Zurich again next Wednesday in a makeup of last month's game that got canceled due to snow. It's possible the teams will play each other a third time in the state tournament.
"We took care of business," Ambrose said. "We kept it close to the vest. We ran pretty basic. They'll probably give us a different look or different problems the next time."