Smith, Stevenson superior in matinee sequel
It's all coming together at the right time for Stevenson's boys basketball team.
Those extra free throws.
Those games against quality opponents.
Those take-over-game sequences from Justin Smith.
Less than 24 hours after stopping Libertyville's season-best four-game winning streak, Stevenson knocked off another quality foe in the inaugural Camp Horseshoe Shootout at Lake Zurich, beating Niles North 69-51 in a Saturday matinee.
Smith scored 12 of his game-high 27 points in the final quarter and grabbed 8 rebounds, sending the Patriots (21-6) to their seventh win in a row, six of which have come against teams with winning records.
"We beat a good team," Smith said after Niles North fell to 20-8. "They play fast. They got up on us and pressured us, and that's what we really need to work on because that's what we're going to see in the playoffs."
Stevenson gets one more formidable opponent before beginning defense of its Class 4A state championship, as the Patriots visit North Chicago for the final North Suburban Conference championship game Wednesday night.
"This last part of the schedule has been pretty tough," Smith said. "We've been playing all good teams, all tough games. It's just building more and more momentum for the playoffs, so we can make a deep run again."
Stevenson used a 5-0 run to end the first half, extending a 27-22 advantage to 32-22. Niles North pulled within 7 points on five occasions in the second half, but each time the Patriots responded.
"Our kids did a great job of coming back and playing tough after a tough game (Friday) night," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said.
Trailing 54-38 after three, Niles North opened the fourth with a 9-0 run, capped by Kaleb Canonigo's third 3-pointer, but a technical foul interrupted the Vikings' momentum. Smith made the ensuing 2 free throws, starting a personal 6-2 run for the 6-foot-7 junior.
"That really helped us," said Smith, who made 13 of 14 free throws on the day. "We work on free throws in between every drill, before practice and after practice. So it's good that it's starting to pay off."
As he's done more and more lately, Smith took over when the Patriots needed him. He went 8 of 8 from the line in the fourth and even took a charge in the final minute.
"That's what you want to see," Ambrose said. "It's been a process. With the amount of experience he's been getting at taking over, it's really helped him. He's just getting better and better at it."
Ryuki Aoki added 14 points, including three 3-pointers, for Stevenson. Rodney Herenton Jr. (10 points, 9 rebounds) just missed a double-double. Jordan Newman sank a pair of 3s for the Patriots, while Willie Herenton (6 points, 6 rebounds) and Kevin Yang (6 points, 3 boards) played well coming off the bench.
Crishawn Cook and Damaria Franklin led Niles North with 17 and 13 points, respectively.