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Long time coming for Brunson, Stevenson
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson, left, celebrates with teammate Matthew Morrissey after the Patriots beat North Chicago in the NSC title game Wednesday night at Stevenson.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/20/2013 11:38 PM

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The last time the Stevenson boys basketball team won a North Suburban Conference title, none of the players on the current roster were even alive.

In fact, 21 years ago, way back in 1992, they weren’t even on their parents’ radar.

But the modern day Patriots are on everyone’s map now. And it might take another 21 years before basketball fans in Lake County see a performance in a high stakes games as special as what sophomore guard Jalen Brunson served up on Wednesday night.

Brunson was nearly unstoppable in the North Suburban Conference championship game against visiting North Chicago, the conference’s Prairie Division winner.

He hit 3-pointers as if they were layups, even getting one to fall as he was knocked to the floor. That one yielded a 4-point play for the Patriots, who advanced to the game by winning the league’s Lake Division. Brunson also found teammates with no-look passes and one-handed bouncers that skimmed nearly half the length of the court. He collected steals and rebounds, too.

Only the final buzzer could put an end to the Brunson buzz saw, which cut down North Chicago 73-58. Brunson finished with a game-high 32 points and canned 6 of his 7 attempts from 3-point range.

“I’m just really happy. It means a lot to win (the conference title),” Brunson said. “It hasn’t happened here in a couple years. Wait, no, not a couple years, a ton of years.

“I was really hungry tonight. I just really wanted it. It was kind of being in the zone. It wasn’t tunnel vision. I was still looking for open teammates. But if I’m open, I’m shooting it. It was a confidence I had.”

The Patriots, who have won 13 games in a row and move to 23-4 on the season, ended the first half on a confident note as Brunson and senior guard Andrew Stempel hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final moments. That turned a 1-point advantage into a 7-point cushion (32-25) at the break.

North Chicago, which drops to 24-3, cut its deficit to 2 points (38-36) with four minutes left in the third quarter when JayQuan McCloud canned a 3-pointer.

But Brunson scored 9 of Stevenson’s final 12 points of the quarter to push the lead back up to 7 points heading into the fourth quarter. Over that stretch, he got his 4-point play, and converted 2 steals into layups, one of which went from coast-to-coast.

“Jalen in the third quarter was unstoppable for a while,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “And we had Connor (Cashaw) who was unstoppable in the first half. So many kids contributed in some way, shape or form tonight.”

Cashaw, another super sophomore, scored 10 of his 18 points in the first half. The Patriots also got 10 points, including two 3-pointers, out of Stempel.

“We wanted to make history. This is such a great feeling to win with these guys,” Cashaw said. “It was great to see Jalen go out and do something like that for our team. And the seniors played their hearts out. Everyone worked so hard and that gave us the edge.”

North Chicago, playing again without star guard Javairius Amos-Mays, who is finishing up a suspension, wasn’t able to rev the tempo up to its usual high-octane playing speed. Stevenson forced the Warhawks into a lot of halfcourt basketball.

McCloud, who was scoreless at halftime thanks to some lockdown defense by Stevenson guard Matt Morrissey, led North Chicago with 14 points. Joseph Thomas has 12 points while Kurt Hall, who played much of the game in foul trouble, and Jarrod Coleman each finished with 10 points.

“Right now, we’re way over-rated,” North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman said. “We’re not the team we were over the first 15 games of the season. There was no defensive effort, no intensity, and you come to the championship game like that?

“Stevenson is a good team, with a ‘Big Three’ (Brunson, Cashaw, Stempel) and a supporting cast to back them up. They beat us from the start. Our kids are going to have to make a decision about where they want to be starting the playoffs. It’s in their hands.”