Stevenson had a rare 10-day layoff in the middle of the season thanks to some quirks in its schedule. Add to that a mental health day off from practice given by coach Pat Ambrose last week and a snow day on Monday that forced the team to cancel shoot-around, and there was bound to be some rust for the Patriots when they next took the floor.
On Tuesday night, in a home game against North Suburban Conference rival Lake Zurich, the top-ranked Patriots showed they had been off for a bit while also showing they are rounding into peak form as they enter the final full month of the season.
Stevenson won 69-47, using balanced scoring and good energy on the glass to out-work the Bears. The Patriots went on a 22-3 run early in the first quarter that gave them a large lead they would never relinquish.
“The 10-day layoff really made us hungry and made us want to play again,” said guard Jalen Brunson. “We came out strong and that’s the way we need to play all the time.”
Brunson, as usual, led the way for Stevenson (18-2, 8-0). He finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists, looking to get his teammates involved early in the game before becoming more assertive as a scorer. Backcourt mate Connor Cashaw added 17 points and nine rebounds as the two guards were the aggressive catalysts on both side of the ball for the Patriots.
Stevenson used its pressure defense to rattle Lake Zurich (19-7, 4-5). The Patriots forced bad shots and turnovers, with their guards attacking the glass to pull down rebounds and start fast breaks on the other end. Though the team didn’t shoot particularly well, Ambrose saw that his team was battling hard, a good sign considering the long break since the previous game.
“It was pretty good, we were a little rusty,” the coach said. “We kind of looked a little out of sync. That said, I thought our effort was pretty good, but could have been better. We got on the boards and got after it.”
The schedule picks back up for the Patriots coming up, with some tough games on the slate before the state tournament begins. Tune-ups like the one against Lake Zurich will serve as preparation for Stevenson, which has many goals left to achieve this season.
“We are absolutely looking to get better and be ready for March,” Cashaw said. “We just have to keep working hard and keep our main focus.”