Defense, shooting carry Stevenson past Maine South
There were plenty of smiling faces for the Stevenson boys basketball team Friday night after the Class 4A Maine South regional championship game.
The No. 3-seeded Patriots (24-6) really got the job done at the defensive end of the floor and from behind the 3-point arc as they rolled to an impressive 60-42 victory over the No. 6 Hawks (21-10) for the regional title.
Stevenson extended its winning streak to 10 games and earned a spot in Wednesday's sectional semifinal at Glenbrook South against No. 2 seed Deerfield.
Stevenson had fallen to the Hawks 48-46 on Dec. 30 at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament.
But Friday night was an entirely different story as the Patriots built a solid 28-17 halftime lead before taking a fairly comfortable 43-29 advantage over Maine South heading into the fourth quarter.
There were some unlikely offensive leaders for the Pats right out of the blocks, as senior guard Jordan Newman scored 11 of his 13 points in the first quarter, including three 3-pointers, to help stake Stevenson to a 16-11 lead after one quarter.
Three-pointers were the order of the day as Stevenson junior Aidan O'Connell had four of them, and 8 of his team-high 14 points in the first half.
As was the case in the first meeting when Maine South managed to hold Stevenson leading scorer Justin Smith to 9 points, the Hawks once again keyed on Smith (4 points) and senior teammate Ryuji Aoki (4 points) at their defensive end.
"They (Maine South) face-guarded Smith and Aoki all night with a triangle-and-two, so we knew we were going to get open shots and all of our 3-pointers were definitely from them being face-guarded," said O'Connell, whose team hit 20-of-34 shots (58 percent) from the field. "Coach (Pat) Ambrose and all of the coaches did a great job preparing us for the game so we were able to see their sets and know the tendencies their players liked to do."
Maine South senior guard Jon Arenas was able to score 11 of his game-high 21 points in the second half. He finished with fived 3s, but the Hawks really struggled offensively throughout the contest by hitting only 14 of their 39 shots (35 percent) from the floor.
"We knew a lot of their strengths and Jon Arenas is really good, but Rodney Herenton Jr. did a tremendous job blanketing him and making him take tough shots," said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose, whose team held a slim 21-20 rebounding advantage overall. "We wanted to take away their best players and share the ball, and we did a great job of that."
Maine South tried to make a last-gasp comeback in the fourth quarter as 6-foot-11 center Brad Perry (10 points) scored on his own rebound to cut the lead to 43-31 with 6:52 to play.
But the Patriots were never seriously threatened after that point as Smith (6 rebounds) scored on two rebound baskets of his own to boost the lead back to 47-31 with 4:41 remaining.
Besides O'Connell and Newman, Willie Herenton also reached double figures in scoring for Stevenson with 13 points. Senior Tommy Digan added 8 points for the Hawks while Rodney Herenton Jr. chipped in 6 points for the Pats.
Ambrose was calm and composed after the Patriots' ceremonial cutting down of the nets following the game. But he was definitely happy with the overall effort and great results his squad produced in the end.
"Aidan (O'Connell) and Jordan (Newman) are good shooters," Ambrose said. "They had good range and rhythm, and they let it ride."