The annual City-Suburban Showdown is the area’s most prestigious regular season event. Over the past 22 years dozens of future NBA players and most of the area’s top teams have featured in the shootout, an invitation to play is coveted by all of the top high school programs.
A large crowd turned out on Saturday at Robert Morris in Arlington Heights, but the Stevenson vs. Morgan Park game had an irregular feel to it.
The Mustangs arrived late and the game started 28 minutes after the scheduled tip off.
“It’s a special event and they act like that,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “We talked about it [while waiting]. What are you supposed to do, give them technicals? You can’t fine a team.”
Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said the team’s bus driver got lost.
“We wondered if they were punking us,” Stevenson senior Willie Herenton said.
Irvin hinted on Friday that he preferred to focus on Sunday’s city championship game against Simeon and that was evident. Starting forward Melo Burrell didn’t dress for the game and Irvin didn’t play his starters in the second quarter, three freshman played significant minutes.
“[Irvin] is [Irvin],” Ambrose said. “He’ll say things and we just have to play through it.”
The Patriots played through all the hijinks and came out with a 60-58 overtime win.
“We felt disrespected,” Herenton said. “We just stuck to the game plan and executed. We didn’t have much time to prepare for this game so it came down to who wanted it. We came out with the dog mentality to get the win and made a lot of key plays down the stretch.”
Herenton led Stevenson (20-5) with 18 points and six rebounds. Indiana recruit Justin Smith scored 15 and grabbed 11 boards. He was prepared for anything that Morgan Park threw at him.
“It makes me feel good that they wanted to do that and try and get in our heads and bother us,” Smith said. “During practice this week we did a little drill where the coaching staff tried to get in my head and intimidate me. I got kicked out of one of the drills. That really helped focus me and keep it inside me and not let my emotions get the best of me.”
Stevenson led by eight at the half. Morgan Park brought the majority of its starters back for the second half. Freshman Nimari Burnett, the hero in Friday’s Public League semifinal win against Curie, drained a long-range three pointer just before the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
Herenton gave Stevenson the lead with a driving layup to open the overtime. Burnett had a chance to win the game but missed a three-pointer with four seconds to play.
“We lost [to Waukegan] last night so we were pissed to begin with,” Ambrose said. “We were angry with ourselves, really salty after last night’s loss.”
Ayo Dosunmu led Morgan Park (19-5) with 12 points and Lenell Henry added 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Despite all the drama, Ambrose said he’d play Morgan Park again.
“They are a great team,” Ambrose said. “They will prepare us for state. I don’t know what to say.”