That's a wrap: Stevenson wins sectional title
Stevenson's winning style of basketball relies more on consistent execution at both ends of the floor than flashy plays.
But when John Ittounas flashed through the lane Friday night at Waukegan's Dawg Pound, he went against the grain, so to speak. The junior guard delivered a no-look, wraparound pass to R.J. Holmes, who took one step and dunked viciously with two hands.
A deafening-loud building got even louder, compliments of Stevenson's student fans sitting in the bleachers directly behind the basket that Holmes just shook. The basket extended the Patriots' lead over Waukegan to 12 points early in the third quarter of the Class 4A sectional championship game.
"I was driving the lane and I saw -- I think it was Bryant Brown -- step over," Ittounas said. "I was going to go for a layup, but I saw him come over so I wrapped (the pass) around him. R.J. has been finishing really well and he just slammed it."
Top-seeded Stevenson never trailed in its 56-41 victory over No. 3 Waukegan, showing for the third time in as many games against the Bulldogs that it can win playing flashy or simple.
"We were locked in, we were loaded, we were focused and we followed the plan," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "Our kids are amazing."
Waukegan finished 28-6, with half of its losses coming to the team with which it shared the North Suburban Conference championship.
It's Stevenson's first sectional championship since 2015, when its Jalen Brunson-led squad won the state title. The Patriots (27-5) advance to Tuesday's 8 p.m. Hoffman Estates supersectional at the Sears Centre Arena and will play Evanston (30-4).
"It's crazy," said Stevenson junior forward Matt Kaznilkov, who scored 12 points, grabbed a game-high 8 rebounds, took 2 charges and set the tone early by sinking two 3-pointers in the game's first three minutes. "We came out and we just left it all out on the court, and we came up victorious."
The Patriots beat the Bulldogs 63-56 in Lincolnshire and 49-45 in overtime at Waukegan during the regular season and knew getting off to a rough start could make for a long night against a team playing on its home court. The Patriots responded with efficient execution in the opening quarter, building a 16-9 lead as Ittounas also hit a pair of 3-pointers.
Brown, who scored a game-high 17 points, scored on a post-up move to pull Waukegan within 19-15 one minute into the second quarter. But a Cameron Bernard steal led to an Ittounas layup for Stevenson, starting a 9-0 run that also included a pair of buckets from Evan Ambrose.
"The past five games or so, we didn't start off too hot," Kaznikov said. "This game, for us to start off so hot, we got in a rhythm and from there we just rolled on."
Waukegan turned the ball over six times in the second quarter and went into the locker room down 31-21. Stevenson shot 7 of 14 from three-point range in the first half.
"The secret's out: The Bulldogs like to trap," said Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw, whose Bulldogs set a school record for wins. "(Stevenson was) very ready. I thought our adjustments were good. I thought our approach was really good. Teams handle things. Pat Ambrose is a top-shelf coach. His program has won a lot of games. They see lots of kinds of styles of basketball, lots of talent levels, lots of approaches."
Ittounas scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the first half, making 3 of 5 shots from beyond the arc.
"My teammates had confidence in me and trusted me, and they kept feeding me the ball," Ittounas said. "In the second half, I knew I could dish off more. I was going to be able to dish off to the bigs and they could finish."
Waukegan got within 37-31 late in the third quarter, but Stevenson answered with back-to-back baskets by Kaznikov. Matthew Ambrose (13 points, three 3-pointers) and Evan Ambrose (8 points off the bench) each sank 4 of 4 free throws in the fourth.
Brown, who finished his four-year varsity career with 2,036 points, was Waukegan's only double-digit scorer.
"They just came out hitting a lot of shots," Brown said of the Patriots. "They had a good game plan for us. We tried our best to do what we could do. A lot of stuff wasn't falling for us on offense."