Warren tops Stevenson, embraces NSC co-champ status
One-third is better than no-thirds.
The Warren boys basketball team just won a piece of the North Suburban Conference co-championship, one-third to be exact. The Blue Devils will share the title with both Stevenson and Libertyville. But they were celebrating not at one-third speed, but at full speed after their 51-40 victory over visiting Stevenson on Wednesday night.
They needed the win to forge the three-way tie, and their fans seemed to understand the importance of the game. The Blue Devils celebrated with fans on the court as soon as the final horn sounded.
"It doesn't matter to us that we're sharing this. We still get a plaque," Warren senior guard Branden Ellis said with a smile. "We're really excited about this. We knew we needed to win this game in order to tie for first place so everyone had energy.
"The past two years, we've been below .500. This has been a great turn-around year for us. And I think we ended the conference season on a five-game winning streak. And to beat a team (Stevenson) that previously beat us by 15 or 20 just shows how dedicated we are and how hard we work in practice."
Warren had leads at the end of each quarter and had a 9-point lead (29-20) at halftime, its largest of the game.
But Stevenson closed the deficit to 2 points (42-40) with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomore guard Matthew Ambrose.
Stevenson had eight 3-pointers on the game, including 3 by junior guard Luke Cheing.
But after Ambrose's big 3-pointers, Stevenson never scored again, and Warren closed the game on a 9-0 run, which included 4 free throws from Barak Diehl.
"Offensively, we just couldn't break the zone as well as we thought we could and defensively, we weren't talking very well and we got beaten on a lot of back doors," said Cheing, who had a team-high 11 points. "It's tough to take this in, but in the end, we still won a conference championship. And this will help us for the state playoffs. Playing all these tough teams at the end of the season will help us in the tournament."
Warren was led by Ellis, who scored a game-high 17 points while Ian Schilling had 12 points, including two 3-pointers.
"This feels great," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "Going into this season, I felt really good about this team because they are so close knit and high character.
"We've had some blips along the way this season, but because they are such high character kids, they bounced right back. And they kept moving forward in practice and games. I thought this was the best game we've played as a team and that's a good place to be this time in the season."
This is Warren's first conference championship in seven years, since the Darius Paul and Nathan Boothe years. For Stevenson, which also got 10 points apiece from Ambrose and Samvit Ram, this is the program's sixth conference title in a row.
"We kind of made a run there, but just couldn't get a stop or two or three or four that we needed," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "But we've played some really tough teams lately. Warren is a really tough team. We got better for the playoffs tonight. That's how we're looking at it."