The Lake Forest gym was jam-packed, sold out and filled to capacity an hour before tipoff.
Stevenson star Jalen Brunson described why: ‘‘our conference is filled with so much hatred.’’
His dad Rick Brunson says ‘‘it’s personal.’’
Conference rivalries are often the best, familiarity does breed contempt. Rivalries turn into something truly special when both teams are great, when both teams have superstar players and that’s exactly what happened on Thursday.
Brunson, a Villanova recruit, scored 41 points to lead the top-ranked Patriots to a 76-69 win over the previously unbeaten No. 4 Scouts.
Lake Forest’s star player, Evan Boudreaux, was phenomenal as well. The Dartmouth recruit scored 29 and pulled down 15 rebounds.
Despite the close score, the game may have been lost in the first half. Lake Forest (16-1, 5-1 North Suburban Lake) turned the ball over 12 times in the first 16 minutes.
‘‘That’s our goal for the game and it happened in the first half,’’ Lake Forest coach Phil LaScala said. ‘‘It was just nerves, dropping balls.’’
As LaScala said, Stevenson’s pressure didn’t seem to force the turnovers. They were unforced errors, maybe a case of the jitters. An unblemished record can often weigh heavy on a high school team.
The Patriots were nearly perfect with the ball, turning it over just three times in the game. Stevenson led 36-25 at halftime.
Lake Forest’s Steve Vogrich, who has missed most of the season with mono, keyed the comeback. He hit two free throws to make it 59-50 with 6:04 to play, igniting a 12-0 run that he also closed on a three-pointer the put the Scouts ahead 60-59 with 3:36 to play.
Then Brunson completely took over the game, scoring 12 and assisting on a basket in the final three minutes. The Scouts didn’t defend Brunson with any gimmicks. It was basically either Jack Traynor or Vogrich guarding him.
‘‘It doesn’t make a lot of sense to double-team him,’’ LaScala said. ‘‘They have really good players. You have to pick your poison.’’
Connor Cashaw scored 12 and had five rebounds for Stevenson (15-1, 6-0). Matthew Johnson scored nine and Justin Smith added eight points and eight rebounds.
Lake Forest’s Lorenzo Edwards, a 6-7 junior, has been improving throughout the season and was a significant factor on defense and offense, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds. Noah Karras added nine points and Vogrich finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
Stevenson is still unbeaten in Illinois. The Patriots lost to St. Louis Chaminade on January 2. They play the top ranked team in the country, Findlay Prep from Las Vegas, in Springfield, Massachusetts on Saturday.
This is the first season Stevenson has traveled out of state to play top national programs.
‘‘We’ve learned there are some pretty good teams out there,’’ Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said.