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Matt Johnson’s big shot sparks Stevenson win

For about 30 minutes, Jalen Brunson and Matt Johnson played very particular roles with Brunson the scorer and Johnson the complementary piece.

Brunson excelled at his part as Johnson struggled. With the game surprisingly in the balance, Johnson found himself ready to step up to the challenge.

The Patriots’ senior guard drilled a three-pointer from the right baseline with just under three minutes remaining to break a tie and propel top-ranked Stevenson to the 60-51 quarterfinal victory over Maine South at the Proviso West Holiday tournament Tuesday in Hillside.

Stevenson (seven points) worked the ball on the perimeter and reversed the ball to the wide-open Johnson. After missing his first four attempts, Johnson buried the shot.

“My teammates did a good job of settling me down,” he said. “We’re all close friends and part of that is trust in believing me in that situation.

“I missed my first couple [of shots] and I was definitely due there.”

Stevenson (9-0) scored the game’s final nine points. Brunson made five three-pointers, scoring 29 points and registering four steals, three assists and three rebounds. Brunson drilled five three-pointers in a 19-point first half. He scored 25 of the Patriots’ first 37 points.

“My coach [Pat Ambrose] gives me the opportunity to take advantage of the offensive situations,” Brunson said. “At the start the right play was scoring and shooting, but then I became a point guard again. We all have confidence in each other, and if somebody’s hot we’re going to get them the ball.”

Maine South (9-2) played fearlessly and refused to yield to the Patriots’ reputation. The Hawks jumped out to an 11-3 lead. Every time Stevenson threatened to separate, Maine South countered with its precise execution and excellent shooting.

The Hawks’ 13-0 run from the close of the second quarter to the start of the second half put them up 33-27 early in the third quarter. Brunson and Connor Cashaw (12 points) sparked a 12-2 Stevenson reversal. The Patriots’ pressure created havoc and forced multiple turnovers as Stevenson converted 20 points off Maine South’s 18 turnovers.

“We were a little lethargic,” Abrose said. “Maine South gets credit for playing a little tougher than us. Once we got the faster pace and then we got the turnovers in the middle, we were able to get some layups.”

Cashaw’s drive off assisted by Brunson extended Stevenson’s lead to 43-37 to start the fourth quarter. Then it got interesting as Maine South converted four of its seven three-pointers in the opening four minutes of the fourth quarter.

Guard Caleb deMarigny (12 points) nailed back-to-back three-pointers in fueling an 11-2 Hawks’ run as Maine South took its only fourth quarter lead, 48-47, on a floater off the glass by guard Jon Arenas (14 points).

Stevenson’s secondary players scored 19 of the Patriots’ final 23 points. Parker Nichols (six points) made a tough layup in traffic for the game’s fifth and final lead change. Nichols also forced a crucial late turnover as Stevenson shut out Maine South the final 4:07.

“It’s 51-51 with three minutes left with a one-and-one against the best team in the state, and I’ll take that,” Maine South coach Tony Lavorato Jr. said. “They take a time out and we miss the [free throw] and No. 12 [Johnson] hits the three, so you have to tip your hat.

“Then it’s a steal and a five-point lead and when it’s under three minutes, five is like 15.”

George Sargeant scored 13 points and added seven rebounds and Davis Neilands contributed 12 points and five rebounds for the Hawks.