Stevenson's collective effort sinks Libertyville
For the last six years, the Stevenson boys basketball roster featured all-Americans and high Division I college recruits.
Those players, Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Connor Cashaw (Rice) and Justin Smith (Indiana), even led Stevenson to the 2015 Class 4A state championship.
This year's roster is just a wee bit different.
"There's no one all-American superstar," Stevenson senior guard Samvit Ram said. "Now, we've got to learn to work together and share the ball and we've been doing a good job of that."
It definitely took a total team effort on Friday for Stevenson to pull out a 60-54 victory on the road over host Libertyville.
Four players scored between 10 and 13 points for the Patriots, who broke up a three-game losing to move to 6-3 on the season and 2-2 in the North Suburban Conference.
Ram finished with a team-high 13 points for Stevenson on three 3-pointers.
"I came off the bench a couple times last year. That was about it," Ram said of his limited playing time last season. "We don't have many guys (who played significant minutes last year). But over the summer, we all worked hard on our games. I did. I got more confident.
"I was ready to go this year. I had been waiting for my chance. It was hard (not getting much playing time last year), but I just wanted to do whatever was best for the team and if that meant being on scout team, that was OK."
Ram hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help keep a pesky Libetyville team at arm's length. The Patriots, who hit a total of 10 3-pointers spread among four players, also knocked down four straight free throws in the last minute to ice the win.
"We're proud of our kids' resolve to pull it out," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "We just kind of built that lead and then hung on.
"It's a different kind of year for us. We have only one kid (Jackson Qualley, 12 points against Libertyville) who logged any kind of minutes for us last year. (Ram) and (Nick) Bonk and (Tyler) Turk were on the team last year but they didn't play a lot. It's been a lot of work (to get everyone up to speed), but it's been a lot of fun because all of our new guys have been really receptive to it. There were a lot of long practices just to go over basic stuff. And then it was fitting all the pieces together. We've got a freshman in there, a couple of sophomores, a kid who is new to our school, a kid who didn't make the team last year.
"By the time you look at our 16-man roster, there are about seven of them who are really fresh off the boat."
One of those varsity rookies is Ambrose's own son Matthew, a sophomore guard who has been in the starting lineup since the season opener. He scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers, against Libertyville and has had some other big games this season.
Ambrose scored a season-high 27 points in a loss to Mundelein.
"He's had some big games, and he's confident and he's a good player," Ambrose said of his son. "And he takes the coaching really well."
Stevenson, who also got double figures from Luke Chieng (11 points), went up by as many as 14 points (53-39) early in the fourth quarter when Bonk slammed home a dunk. But Libertvyille then went on a 12-3 run to close the deficit to 5 points (56-51) with 1:30 left.
But the Wildcats, who fall to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the NSC, had no choice at that point than to start fouling and Stevenson knocked down its free throws.
"You have to give Stevenson a lot of credit because they came out and executed really well," first-year Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "And we had a few mistakes and some turnovers and they capitalized on it."
"But when we were able to get into a rhythm, that's when we got back into the game."
Senior forward Drew Peterson was a big reason Libertyville was in the game at the very end. He scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter, in spite of constant double and triple teams when he posted up in the paint, and in-your-face defense when he tried to shoot from the perimeter.
Peterson is one of the most highly regarded players in the suburbs, and is being recruited by Wisconsin, Illinois, DePaul, Stanford and Drake, among others.
Peterson says he's pretty sure Illinois was in attendance on Friday night. He will wait until the spring to sign.
"I've gotten used to it (the college coaches in the stands)," Peterson said. "My recruitment started a couple of years ago. I had coaches coming to games last year. Obviously, they are in the crowd but I am just doing whatever I can to focus on the game and help my team win.
"Tonight we were a little slow out of the gate. We let (Stevenson) do what they wanted and we didn't come out with a defensive edge."
Besides Peterson, Libertyville had one other player in double-figures. Chase Eyre added 14 points.