Long-sought road win for Lake Zurich at Stevenson
Quieter than a morgue in recent years, the visiting boys basketball locker room at Stevenson suddenly erupted in cheers.
Minutes earlier, Lake Zurich had finished a come-from-behind, 47-41 win over the host Patriots in an early-season North Suburban Lake Division showdown Wednesday night.
"I was just going around and shaking everybody's hand and giving everybody a hug," coach Billy Pitcher said after his Bears improved to 6-2 and 2-0 in the NSC Lake with their third win in a row. "Even the guys that didn't play did a great job of preparing. We had a long preparation time for this game. Stevenson's always a team that you circle on the calendar."
It didn't matter to the Bears that the defending Class 4A state champs graduated stars Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw. The victory for them was huge.
"It was really rowdy in there (in the locker room)," said Nick Meyer, who led Lake Zurich with game highs of 22 points, which equaled his season best, and 8 rebounds. "In my years here, we've never beat Stevenson at Stevenson. So it was a really big win, especially for me, senior year, last game here."
Fact is, Stevenson (5-2, 2-1) hadn't lost a conference game since Jan. 10, 2014 at Zion-Benton (70-69 in overtime). The Patriots hadn't suffered a home defeat since March 2, 2012 (Brunson and Cashaw's freshman year), when Warren knocked them off 57-47 in the regional finals.
"It's a different team," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of his 2015-16 squad. "Jalen Brunson isn't on this team."
Stevenson's high-scoring guard now is Ryuji Aoki, who had a team-high 13 points against Lake Zurich. The Patriots led 8-2 after one quarter and were up by as many as eight points (13-5) midway through the second. They went into halftime ahead 19-12, despite 7-of-19 shooting, as Lake Zurich shot just 4 of 19 from the field.
"We struggled a little bit shooting the first half and couldn't get away from them, and they kept it close," Ambrose said. "We struggled closing out on some shooters (in the second half) and they shot real well."
Meyer also helped hold 6-foot-7 Justin Smith to 12 points. Smith, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, scored just 2 points after halftime.
"(Lake Zurich) was clogging the lane a little bit and (had) a scouting report on certain things that he does," Ambrose said of his Division-I prospect. "He needs to diversify his game a little bit."
"I just said, 'I can't let (Smith) get in front of me, can't let him get to the basket,' " Meyer said. "I tried to close out, high hands, as much as I could and take away his 3s.
"Offensively, whenever I was open, I shot it."
Meyer shot 8 of 11 from the floor, making all 7 of his field-goal attempts in the final three quarters. He drained a pair of 3-pointers.
"We really applauded Meyer (after the game) for his offense, and then I said, 'But his biggest performance was defensively,' " Pitcher said. "He's just really an athletic kid. He led us in every bench number, squat number. He runs the mile in under five minutes. He's just in unbelievable shape. He's a 30-inch vertical guy. So his length at 6-4 is a good matchup for us in that situation (against Smith)."
Lake Zurich outscored Stevenson 22-14 in the fourth and outrebounded the Patriots 11-4. Meyer's three-point play with 5:58 left in the quarter gave the visitors the lead at 32-30 and started a 9-0 run.
Michael Bens 5 of his 11 points in the fourth for Lake Zurich and finished with three 3-pointers. Nick Penny added 7 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the stripe.
Stevenson also got 10 points from Willie Herenton.