Benet senior forward Kendrick Tchoua, having moved into the Chicago area less than a year ago, still hasn’t learned much about the teams outside the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
So it wasn’t until Tchoua showed up at the gym Saturday in Lisle that he learned Benet’s opponent of the day, Stevenson, was ranked No. 14 in the area with a 23-3 record.
“And I was like, ‘Wow, they must be a really good team,’” he said.
The Patriots are indeed good, as winners of 14 straight entering the game. But the Redwings are good, too, as they showed in full color by beating Stevenson 63-59 in a big non-conference win.
Fittingly, Tchoua led the way with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, 12 of which he tallied in the first quarter alone; fellow big man Colin Crothers added 14 points and nine rebounds. The two towers, 6-7 and 6-8 in height, met no matches inside against a smaller Stevenson squad.
“Those guys have a good rapport together, they pass the ball well to each other, they did a good job of taking a post and spacing the floor well for the other one,” coach Gene Heidkamp said. “We switched off as to who was in the post and who was in the perimeter, and I thought it worked pretty well.”
In a back-and-forth game, it was Benet (21-7) that led by as much as 11 early and 30-26 at halftime, but Stevenson that stood on top for much of the final frame. A great pass from Tchoua to Crothers led to an emphatic layup-and-one to give the Redwings the lead with 2:51 left, though, and the hosts made their free throws down the stretch to keep their foes at bay.
Guards Matt Ambrose and Luke Chieng scored 20 and 19, respectively, for the visiting Patriots, who have now lost to Benet four consecutive years.
Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said he learned a lesson about the need for stronger, more frequent screens and his team learned a lesson about valuing every possession, but that the experience was nonetheless altogether positive.
“It was a great game, great sectional-type atmosphere,” Ambrose said. “That’s one of the reasons we play this game every year after the sectional seeding, because we want a great test and they’re going to provide it for us.”
Benet still has an outside chance at squeaking into a split conference championship if it beats St. Viator at home next Wednesday, which culminates a brutal three-game gauntlet that began this weekend against Notre Dame and Stevenson.
Friday, the Redwings went 7-of-15 from deep to pull attention away from Tchoua and Crothers en route to beating the Dons. Saturday, they made 7-of-12 triples. Moving forward towards the postseason, that kind of versatile offense will scare a lot of teams in the Bartlett Sectional, in which Benet is seeded second.
“If we’re making seven or eight (threes) a game to go along with our inside play, that’s a good balance,” Heidkamp said. “This is a good experience for us going into the state tournament.”