Stevenson teams up for repeat Proviso West title
The stars are numerous for Stevenson's boys basketball team, as has been well documented.
The most under-rated aspect of the state's top-ranked team may be just how well all that talent works together.
Saturday night in the title game of the 54th annual Proviso West Holiday Tournament, the team concept came into play at just the right time for the Patriots in their contest with state-ranked St. Joseph.
It certainly helps that Stevenson has one of the top guards in the country in Villanova-bound senior Jalen Brunson.
Brunson scored 6 of his game-high 27 points in the final four minutes to lift Stevenson to its second consecutive tournament title, 69-60 over the Chargers. The Patriots became the first team to win back-to-back titles since St. Joseph won three straight from 2004-2006.
Brunson won the tourney's most outstanding player choice for the second straight year.
"Winning the MVP means a lot but most importantly my teammates helped get me through this experience," Brunson said. "They did a great job of getting me the ball and putting me in a good position."
Stevenson (11-0) looked as if it was going to put away from the Chargers midway through the third quarter. Thanks to a 13-4 burst keyed by a pair of long 3-pointers from Connor Cashaw, the Patriots opened up a 50-37 advantage with 2:51 to go in the third quarter. Cashaw, who joined Brunson on the all-tournament team, tallied 18 points and 9 rebounds.
Back came St. Joseph (11-2). The Chargers closed the quarter by scoring the last 8 points and trimmed the margin all the way to 1 with 6:36 to play in regulation on a free throw by Northwestern-bound senior Jordan Ash.
"We cut it to 1, I missed a free throw and we really couldn't get it back after that," said Ash, who tied for team-high scoring honors with Nick Rakocevic with 17 points. "We fought pretty hard to get back into the game and didn't have much left after that."
The Chargers came out on shooting well early. St. Joe hit 9 of its first 12 shots to take a 24-19 lead after one quarter.
"In big games you come out with a lot of emotion, but then you realize you cannot keep that up," said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose. "Like a boxing match, you kind of figure out what the other guy is going to do and you counter that."
Stevenson countered in a big way, taking its first lead of the night on a Brunson layup. The Pats then got a dunk from Justin Smith (16 points) to take the lead for good.
"Coach (Ambrose) talks about the fist, then five fingers," Brunson said. "When we play like five fingers, we play as individuals. When we are tight like a fist we are playing like a team and that's what we had to get back to after the first quarter."
Joffrey Brown and Lavin Thomas were the only other players in double figures for the Chargers, with 10 points apiece. Brunson held Nebraska-bound senior Glynn Watson of St. Joe's to only 6 points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field.