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posted: 1/27/2010 12:01 AM

Levitt, Stevenson answer challenge

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Jeff Levitt said when he woke up Saturday morning, following Stevenson's loss at Zion-Benton, that the quadriceps that he recently tweaked felt achy enough that he thought he might miss Tuesday night's showdown against Lake Forest.

The injury got better the next couple of days, and, fortunately for Stevenson, Levitt played.

He played one of his best games in his three years on varsity, scoring a career-high 22 points, including four clutch free throws down the stretch, as Stevenson held off a furious second-half comeback by the visiting Scouts to win a 55-54 thriller.

"Jeff Levitt played a fantastic game," Patriots coach Pat Ambrose said. "Jeff's been overcoming some injuries this week - really this whole year - and he played really tough in a lot of ways."

The win allowed Stevenson (13-6, 6-3) to "stay in the race," as Levitt put it, in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division. Lake Forest (11-8, 6-2) is now tied for first place with Zion-Benton, which beat Libertyville 65-53 Tuesday. Stevenson is alone in third.

The Patriots were looking to avenge an overtime loss at Lake Forest on Dec. 12, and they got off to exactly the kind of start they wanted. They were up 13-0 after a baseline drive by Levitt, who helped set the tone with his aggressiveness at the offensive end.

Levitt, who's also been slowed by a wrist injury that he hurt during Buffalo Grove's Thanksgiving tournament, had 11 points at halftime in helping the hosts build a 33-16 lead.

"(The quad) was better than I thought it was going to be," Levitt said. "Maybe that was part of adrenaline.

"I was getting to the basket, and our big guys do a good job of sealing their men."

Despite Mitch Hopfinger's steal under Stevenson's basket and his turnaround shot that swished through the net to beat the buzzer, Lake Forest had a rough half offensively. The Scouts struggled against Stevenson's man-to-man defense and, defensively, they watched the Patriots hit 12 of 18 shots.

"They were in an attack mode at the beginning of the game," Scouts coach Phil LaScala said of his opponent. "They put a lot of pressure on us, and we weren't ready to play. I'll give them all the credit, though. They took us out of everything we wanted to do from the get-go."

Kevin Earl (16 points) scored early in the second half to give Stevenson its second 19-point cushion, but Hopfinger (17 points) and sophomore Thomas Durrett (14 points) helped rally the Scouts.

Lake Forest sank 8 of 12 shots in the third quarter to pull within 41-34 heading into the fourth and didn't relent.

"They're a good team. We're not going to keep them down that long," Ambrose said of the Scouts. "Give them credit. They can shoot."

Durrett's 3-pointer early in the fourth got Lake Forest within 41-39, but Levitt's second 3 made it a five-point margin with 4:20 to go.

Ryan Atherley (12 points) hit his third 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to cut the Scouts' deficit to two again, but Levitt's 2 free throws with 11.8 on the clock made Durrett's 3 in the closing seconds moot.

"We knew they would make a run in the second half," Levitt said. "It was a good win to stick with them (in the NSC Lake)."

Lake Forest shot 61 percent (22 of 36) for the game, while Hopfinger helped hold Stevenson's Nate Johnson to 5 points.

"I thought our guys showed a lot of composure in coming back and knocking down some shots," LaScala said. "We got a pretty good shooting team."