DeKALB -- One by one, the Stevenson Patriots emerged unscathed.
But for a moment, one had to wonder if a few scrapes or bruises might emerge, too.
Some of the boys took a pretty hard and enthusiastic dive into the Stevenson student section as they began their celebration Tuesday night in the end zone of the Convocation Center at Northern Illinois University.
The Patriots, falling and tripping on their happy classmates in the wake of a 63-49 supersectional victory over Rockford Auburn, seemed intent on enjoying the moment as if they were a bunch of star-struck first-timers.
"We might have some injuries over there, I don't know," said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose, looking both happy and somewhat concerned as he watched the giddy mosh pit from afar. "But what can you say? This is something that never gets old."
Ambrose and his players would know firsthand.
Their win over Rockford Auburn, which was keyed by a game-high 35 points from star guard Jalen Brunson, sealed their second consecutive trip to the IHSA state finals. The Patriots will face powerhouse Whitney Young in Friday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal game inside Carver Arena at the Peoria Civic Center.
Last year, Stevenson advanced all the way to the state championship game before losing to a Simeon team that was led by Jabari Parker, now a star freshman at Duke.
"We've done those (crowd dives) before, but it's never gotten quite that intense," Stevenson junior forward Parker Nichols said with a laugh after emerging, hair tussled. "I'm glad everyone is OK, but it was fun. This (win) feels great. It was a battle. Rockford Auburn came out with its best but we stuck together. Everyone was playing intense, making big shots."
Nichols, who finished with 5 points, made his own big shot, a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter that helped Stevenson stretch its lead to 10 points. Senior guard Matt Morrissey (6 points, 7 rebounds) also had some big drives to the basket. Connor Cashaw (9 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals) hit some clutch jumpers and Matt Johnson (8 points) hit two big 3-pointers.
But, as has been the case many times this season, it was Brunson's night. He took over, connecting on 13 of 24 shots and making 5 of his 8 free throws in the final two minutes.
"Sometimes you just sit back and watch," Nichols said of Brunson. "It's a good show."
Despite being face-guarded and bumped and tugged on nearly the entire game, Brunson was tough to stop once he got going. He scored all 13 of Stevenson's second-quarter points, and scored 14 of Stevenson's 21 fourth-quarter points.
"He doesn't flinch because that's the way he is. He welcomes it," Ambrose said of Brunson's approach to being the focus of every defense. "He's like, 'Let's go.' That's when he turns it up and focuses more and plays better. He's that special."
Rockford Auburn, which got 14 points (and 12 rebounds) from Antoine Pittman and 13 points from Zayvious Hoover did cut into Stevenson's lead a couple of times in the fourth quarter. The Knights got it down to 6 points with about four minutes left.
But mistakes often derailed Rockford Auburn, which finished with 19 turnovers.
"It was frustrating," Pittman said. "They capitalized off a lot of our turnovers."
Despite 9 first-half turnovers, Rockford Auburn was tied with Stevenson at the break, 22-22. The Knights had forced Stevenson into a 35 percent clip from the field. Only Brunson was hitting for the Patriots.
"At halftime, you had a bunch of guys in our locker room who knew that they could beat (Stevenson)," Rockford Auburn coach Bryan Ott said. "They charged up the tunnel and were ready to play. But there was a failure to execute in the second half and sometimes that happens in basketball. You've also got to credit Stevenson for that, too."
Stevenson will be making its fourth trip downstate in school history. Besides last year, the Patriots also advanced in 1991 and 2007.
"It's a great feeling to go downstate," Morrissey said. "There was more hype coming into this season (compared to last season), and there was more of an expectation for us to get back (to state). We're just excited to get back and have another shot."