Aoki, Stevenson shoot past Libertyville
It was just a brief glance at the Stevenson student section by Patriots senior Ryuji Aoki, but the resulting smile said it all on senior night as the host Patriots faced off with rival Libertyville in the final regular season North Suburban Lake boys basketball games of the season.
As Aoki took a pass from teammate Jordan Newman, Aoki had a wide open look at another 3-pointer. The crowd started to cheer in anticipation of another Aoki longball.
Instead, the senior chose to continue to run out the clock by passing it away.
Aoki didn't pass up many open looks, though, as his game-high 17 points led Stevenson to a hard fought 59-50 win over the Wildcats. Stevenson has won six straight, and the Lake Division champs improved to 20-6 and 10-2 in league play. The loss snapped a 4-game winning streak for Libertyville (15-10, 6-6).
"Our student section is great," said Aoki who drained 3 from long range. "It was my last game here on senior night and I just wanted to have fun -- play hard and have fun."
Stevenson used an 11-3 run to start the final quarter to break open a close game. The two teams traded leads 8 times in the third quarter before Aidan O'Connell hit his only 3-pointer of the night with 1:33 to go in the third quarter to give the Patriots the lead for good at 38-37.
"I think we were pleased with our defense all night, giving up as few points as we did to a very good Libertyville team," said Stevenson Pat Ambrose. "We started to get some run outs in the third quarter and that got our offense going."
As much as Aoki is known for his shooting ability, his defense, along with that of senior Rodney Herenton, Jr., was as big a reason for the Stevenson win as any.
"Our two solid seniors are athletic and can be versatile for us," Ambrose said. "They go do the job for us at both ends and can handle the ball so we are very happy with our backcourt."
While Stevenson was starting to pull away, two of the Wildcats' top scorers -- Ben Kimpler and Drew Peterson -- were mired in foul trouble. Though Libertyville was only down 44-41 when the two returned to the floor, the effect it had on the Wildcats offense was noticeable.
"Drew is a big part of our offense, as is Ben, and he does a lot to create for himself and other guys," said Libertyville coach Brent Mork. "The bigger issue for us was defensively. We gave up too many looks and too much penetration at the end."
The hosts continued their run in the fourth quarter building the lead to double figures on a ferocious dunk by junior Justin Smith. Smith also hit double figures with 14 points and added 11 rebounds. The Smith dunk put Stevenson ahead 54-43 with 2:12 to go.
Peterson led the way for Libertyville with 15 points despite missing most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Kimpler chipped in with 11 points and 8 boards for the Wildcats.