When he’s at his best, Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson is one of the state’s premier scorers. And even when he’s not firing on all cylinders, Brunson and the Patriots are still tough to stop.
Despite its star senior not picking up as much of the scoring slack as usual, Stevenson rolled on Tuesday night at the 4A Chicago State Supersectional, defeating Riverside-Brookfield 62-45. The win clinches a third consecutive trip to Peoria for the Patriots.
“I did not shoot the ball well, but I think I still played well,” said Brunson, who had 13 points and five assists. “I did other things beside score. It was my job to be the point guard and distribute the ball.”
The Patriots (28-3) jumped out to a quick start and never looked back, using an aggressive defense to force turnovers and an attacking offense to get into the paint with ease. They led by 16 points after a first quarter where their defense forced eight turnovers.
Three of those turnovers came on charges taken by forward Parker Nichols. He took a fourth charge in the second quarter.
“Parker has a charge radar, he sort of senses it before it happens,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “We had kind of identified some things from them, so we were really happy with that.
“(Nichols) is a very smart kid in the classroom and he sort of senses it ahead of time. And other guys are pressuring the ball to make the opponent hurry up, so it’s a little bit of a give-and-take.”
While Nichols was firing up the team on the defensive end, Connor Cashaw did the bulk of the work for the Patriots offensively. Cashaw lead the team with 23 points to go along with eight rebounds.
The Bulldogs (28-4) were led by Sam Johnson’s 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Many of Cashaw’s baskets came on offensive rebounds and drives to the hoop, as Stevenson did much of its scoring in the paint. The Patriots hit just three shots from three-point range, but still had more than enough offensively. A 24-6 that started in the middle of the second quarter put the game far of reach, as the lead was never in serious doubt throughout the second half.
Now the Patriots turn their focus to Bolingbrook, their opponents on Friday night.
“We wanted to make a statement right away (against Riverside-Brookfield). Play Stevenson basketball: attack and play defense,” Cashaw said. “There’s always room for improvement though. We are going to continue to strive for that and continue to get better.”