Ittounas, Stevenson wrap up NSC outright
After posting the first double-double of his varsity basketball career and scoring more points than he ever has in a game, Stevenson senior guard John Ittounas smiled wide when asked about the layup.
Leonard's breakaway bucket in the closing seconds Wednesday drew the largest cheers on a night that featured plenty for host Stevenson, as the Patriots defeated visiting Lake Forest 46-31 on Senior Night. The victory clinched the North Suburban Conference championship outright for the Patriots, who have won it eight straight years.
Ittounas led the way with a career-high 21 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals, while also limiting promising Scouts freshman Asa Thomas to 7 points. Matthew Ambrose added 10 points for Stevenson (13-1 NSC), which takes a 25-4 record and nine-game winning streak into the state tournament.
The Patriots also avenged their lone NSC loss, as they fell 38-33 at Lake Forest on Jan. 29, which was the last time they lost. The two teams could meet again next Friday night in the regional final at Stevenson.
Leonard didn't play basketball the last two years. The senior guard got rare minutes coming off the bench in the first half, and then when he got back in the game in the final minute, he finished his only scoring opportunity.
His teammates mobbed him. The Sports Center erupted.
"Definitely [more excited] for Cameron Leonard," a smiling Ittounas said. "Someone you grow up with, played travel with him since third grade. Seeing him score that [basket], everyone was jumping for joy. It was amazing."
"It was so cool," Ambrose added of Leonard's basket. "He's the definition of a team player, a senior who doesn't get to play much, but he works his butt off in practice every day. He deserves that moment more than anyone."
Ittounas missed a couple of jumpers, including a 3, in the opening quarter but found his rhythm attacking the basket in the second quarter. He scored back-to-back baskets on spin moves in the lane, and Evan Ambrose's 3-pointer in the final minute had Stevenson up 20-17 at halftime.
"My teammates just fed me the ball," Ittounas said. "We always look for open gaps, and we look to create for our teammates. It was just open for me. It's all thanks to my teammates for spreading the floor and doing what they do best."
Ittounas finished 8 of 12 from the floor (1 of 3 from the arc) and 4 of 5 from the free-throw line.
"He was smooth going to the basket and finishing real nice," Patriots coach Pat Ambrose said. "One time he shook like three times [in the paint]."
Ittounas opened the second half with another drive and spin, then drained a 3. A 14-3 run had the Patriots up 34-20 late in the third.
"They had a great start to the second half and came out with a lot of energy and, offensively, we couldn't get anything going," coach Phil LaScala said after his Scouts fell to 18-12 (8-6 NSC). "Their defense was stifling us."
"The second half," Pat Ambrose said, "we got a rhythm on defense."
"The mood in the locker room [at halftime] was 'stop and a score, stop and a score,' " Matthew Ambrose said. "The first couple of minutes of the second half set the tone for the rest of the game."
Ittounas scored 7 points in the fourth, as the Patriots blew it open.
Andy Brown and Grant Kaus each had 8 points for the Scouts.