Leaders come up big for Stevenson
He didn't dunk ferociously. He didn't post a double-double by halftime. He didn't swat shots so hard that fans laughed and cheered simultaneously.
Justin Smith did that. It's what Stevenson's 6-foot-7 super athlete does.
Another tall Stevenson senior drew his own cheers on senior night Wednesday against Warren.
And John Weiler didn't score a basket. But when the 6-foot-4 fan favorite sacrificed his lanky body to secure a loose ball near half court in the first half, the gym erupted.
"We all love John," Smith said with a smile. "John brings a lot of energy to practice and to games. He just does all the little things, and we really appreciate that."
Stevenson appreciates its Indiana-bound star too. Smith posted a season-high 32 points and 16 rebounds, as the Patriots exacted revenge with a 76-45 blowout of the Blue Devils in both teams' regular-season finale. Willie Herenton tallied 19 points, including three 3-pointers, for the home team.
"I just played the way the defense was playing," Smith said after Stevenson (21-5) wrapped up North Suburban Conference play with a 12-2 record. "I just went out there and played with my teammates and had a good time."
Juwan Perry had 13 points and 6 rebounds to pace Warren (12-14, 5-9), which overcame Smith's 28 points on Jan. 25 to beat Stevenson 58-51 and hand the Patriots their first NSC loss. Jayson Dorsey added 10 points for the Blue Devils, who spotted the hosts a 16-0 lead.
Smith scored the game's first 8 points, including the first of his 3 dunks. He had 14 points and 8 rebounds in the opening quarter in helping the Patriots build an 18-6 advantage.
"We didn't play with a lot of poise on offense right at the beginning," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "We took some bad shots, and (Stevenson) played really well. Justin came really ready to play and dominated."
After a Smith dunk extended Stevenson's lead to 28-12, Weiler dived for a loose ball and outmuscled a Warren player for the ball. As Weiler lay on the court, Stevenson called timeout. Patriots seniors Aidan O'Connell, Danny Rosen and Mitch Huelsman sprinted onto the floor to congratulate their teammate on his hustle play.
"It made me feel great," Weiler said. "It was a great senior night. I just love the team, and I'm just really happy to be on it."
Patriots coach Pat Ambrose is thrilled Weiler, a heart-and-soul kind of player, is on his basketball team.
"John's a special kid," Ambrose said. "John is a school, team, fan favorite. He's really beloved."
Weiler enjoyed another fun moment late in the third quarter with Stevenson comfortably ahead. He substituted in for Smith, who pointed at himself while jokingly asking Weiler if he was sure about whom he was replacing on the court.
"Whenever I come in for him during practice, there's always a little joke between us," Weiler said with a laugh. "I give him a little look."
Smith had 20 points and 11 rebounds at halftime, as the Patriots enjoyed a 31-14 lead. Smith played only briefly in the fourth quarter, swishing two 3-pointers in as many attempts.
"It's fun to cheer for him, and it's fun to watch him," Weiler said. "He's just great."
Ambrose played all eight of his seniors -- including starters Smith, Herenton, O'Connell and Eric Zalewski, and reserves Huelsman, Rosen, Weiler and Tyrek Washington -- in the first half. Backups Luke Chieng, Casey Kubow and Tyler Turk all hit 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
"They were focused," Ambrose said of his players. "It bothered us that we lost the last time, and it bothered us that we didn't shoot real well that time. On our senior night on our home floor, we didn't want to shoot badly, and we didn't."