Stevenson reaches final thanks to team effort
Stevenson's coach Pat Ambrose hugs Andrw Stempel after their win over Edwardsville during the fourth state basketball semifinals game. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 16, 2013 12:03AM
PEORIA — Stevenson advanced to the Class 4A boys basketball state semifinals thanks to the spectacular play of one alpha male and a more-than-capable supporting cast.
Friday night, the Patriots’ balance was again on display on the grandest of stages. Stevenson reached the school’s first-ever state championship game after coasting to a 60-49 win over Edwardsville at Carver Arena.
The Patriots’ alpha dog, sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, was terrific early. He scored the team’s first 11 points, nine of which came on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the 3-point line. He finished the half with 13 points as Stevenson’s depth and ferocious man-to-man defense became the dominate storyline.
“When games get close, we get more intense on the defensive end,” Stevenson senior guard Andy Stempel said. “It’s what we’ve gone by the entire year. It’s what got us here.”
After the first quarter ended in a 15-15 stalemate, Stevenson created separation in the second quarter and took a 30-20 lead into the break. Stevenson’s 6-of-9 3-point shooting bested Edwardsville’s 1-of-10 shooting from behind the arc.
In the second half, short bursts by the Tigers (30-3) were immediately countered by the Patriots (29-4). Three times Stempel (14 points, 4-of-6 from 3-point range) stuffed opposition runs by knocking down key 3-point shots. The first came after Edwardsville started the second half on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to four, 30-26. Later in the quarter, his 3-point shot from the same spot — left baseline — pushed the Patriots lead back to 10, 40-30, with 2:55 left in the quarter. Then with 10 seconds left in the quarter, he drained another to give Stevenson a nine-point lead, 45-36.
Brunson would get his points, 21, but sophomore Connor Cashaw added 13 points and junior Matt Morrissey, senior Justin Berkson and sophomore Cameron Green combined for 12.
Next up is three-time Class 4A state champ Simeon and its Sports Illustrated cover superstar Jabari Parker at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. There was no happy-to-be-there talk in the postgame press conference.
“We are not going to back down. We have to step it up this time,” Brunson said. “We have to be perfect in everything we do. I think we are ready to accept the challenge.”