SRO-crowd watches Stevenson edge Mundelein
Mundelein's boys basketball team played in front of what coach Matt Badgley called "hostile" crowds in downstate Collinsville over break.
"The 80-year-old women were yelling at you," Badgley joked. "It was fun."
Friday night, the fun continued at Stevenson. And while fans weren't necessarily "hostile," the Sports Center was packed. A standing-room-only crowd, reminiscent to the Jalen Brunson years, witnessed a North Suburban Conference showdown that didn't disappoint.
Stevenson certainly didn't disappoint on its home floor, leading nearly the entire game before holding on for a 67-64 win. John Ittounas led a typical, balanced attack for the Patriots with a season-high 18 points. Matt Kaznikov added 17 points, and RJ Holmes had 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds for the defending NSC champions.
Stevenson improved to 12-3 and 4-0 in the NSC, while Mundelein fell to 13-2 and 3-1 with its second loss in a row.
"It was incredible," Ittounas said of the crowd. "Looking up at the crowd, to see every single bleacher [seat] filled was crazy. I've never seen that, even when I used to come to some games in the Jalen era."
Badgley didn't think the crowd was a factor in his team's performance. Stevenson was up 14 with three minutes left, before Conor Enright (16 points) and Scottie Ebube (16 points) led a late comeback for the Mustangs. Enright an Ebube combined for 18 fourth-quarter points.
"I thought our kids handled [the atmosphere] well," Badgley said. "[Stevenson] does what Stevenson does. If they can get just a little bit on you, they can keep a pace on you. We chipped away at the end, and we did a lot of good things. I would have liked to have had two more minutes."
In his return to Stevenson, where he played the last two seasons, junior guard Trey Baker led Mundelein with a game-high 22 points, tying his season and career high. He shot 5 of 10 from the floor (4 of 8 from the arc) and 8 of 9 from the stripe.
Baker played sparingly on Stevenson's varsity as a freshman but was up the whole season. He made the varsity roster again as a sophomore but was sent down in December, before rejoining the varsity for the state tournament.
"Before the game I got a lot of support from my teammates, my coaches," Baker said. "The plan was, 'Team first. It's not Trey vs. Stevenson. It's Mundelein vs. Stevenson.' So that was my mind set going into the game, despite what was going on and the emotions. I tried to reign those in, stay the course and get a 'W.' "
Matthew Ambrose also scored 10 points for Stevenson, while Jacob Tenner, making his first start of the season, contributed 5 points and 3 offensive rebounds. Tenner's three-point play extended the Patriots' lead to 49-40 with 5:56 left in the fourth, after Enright fed Ebube to bring Mundelein within six.
Stevenson hadn't played since Dec. 28 at Hinsdale Central, where the Patriots concluded the tournament with back-to-back losses to Homewood-Flossmoor and Marian Catholic. Those final two games only fueled the Patriots.
"We thought we could have won those games," Ittounas said. "We finished on a sour note so we knew we knew we had to come out, especially in a big game, and just finish strong."
Stevenson used a 10-0 run after Mundelein's Ebube opened the scoring and led 16-7 after one quarter. The Patriots went into halftime up 31-20 on a flip shot in the lane by Kaznikov, who had 10 points at the break.
"We played a lot better," Patriots coach Pat Ambrose said. "Those [tournament] games get to be such a blur, though. We took some days off and then just time to rest and relax. It helped."
Mundelein also had a long layoff, having not played since finishing the Collinsville tournament on Dec. 30.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Baker said. "We battled to the end."