Who needs homecourt advantage?
Apparently the Stevenson boys basketball team doesn't.
The Patriots are 15 games into the season and, because of some scheduling glitches, have had only one home game so far. Yet they're hardly complaining, because the bus rides and the hostile gyms seem to be bringing out the best in them.
In a crowded Mundelein gym on Friday night, where a gigantic and feisty student section for the home team did its best to serve as a constant distraction, Stevenson kept its wits and its cool.
The Patriots turned a 1-point deficit at halftime into an 11-point advantage by the end of the third quarter, thanks in large part to the hot shooting and swift decision-making of sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson.
Brunson, and a string of made free throws in the fourth quarter by teammate Connor Cashaw, kept Mundelein at arm's length for the rest of the game as Stevenson notched a 71-61 North Suburban Conference Lake Division victory.
The win moves Stevenson to 11-4 overall and 4-2 in the Lake Division. Mundelein drops to 8-7 and 4-2.
"The road doesn't bother us at all," said Brunson, who poured in a game-high 29 points, just 6 points off his career-high of 35 points, which was set against Lake Forest earlier this season. "We make it like a home game. Our guys on the bench help us (stay focused) during the game, and we also have a lot of our own fans come to the games."
The Stevenson contingent saw Brunson become virtually un-guardable in the game-changing third quarter. He scored 12 points and was a perfect 5-for-5 on his field goals, most of which were pretty, nothing-but-net jumpers.
"He's got skills, smarts, athletic ability," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of Brunson. "If there was just one thing he was good at, defenses could probably take him out (of the game). But since he can do a whole lot of things, he's just unflappable, solid and smart. He's strong, he can go left hand, right hand. I mean, what can you say?"
The Mustangs might have been muttering some choice words in frustration. Not only could they not stop Brunson, but Cashaw also had his way most of the game. The sophomore guard finished with 21 points and iced the game by knocking down 7-of-9 free throws in the final minutes.
"Brunson did a really good job and so did Cashaw, but I don't think we did a very good job of playing team defense," said Mundelein senior forward Sean O'Brien, who poured in a team-high 24 points. "We need to step in and keep those guys out of the lane better.
"We were trying to get the ball out of their hands by face-guarding them and putting different guys on them but tonight, we didn't do a very good job of that."
There were other problems for the Mustangs. According to head coach Dick Knar, they had a hard time matching Stevenson's intensity level.
"I was just disappointed with our effort. We didn't play with any effort," Knar said. "They beat us to every loose ball, they beat us on the boards. They executed on offense and we were chasing them.
"They 100 percent out-played us and brought more energy and that's the disappointment for me because we don't do that. That's the first time we've played like that all season."
Mundelein tried to kick up its intensity in crunch time but got no closer than eight points in the fourth quarter.
"Our defensive intensity came out in us," Brunson said. "It continued on the offensive end to help us get scores and then we just brought it home."
Besides Brunson and Cashaw, no one else scored in double-figures for Stevenson. But senior guard Andrew Stempel did finish with 9 points.
For Mundelein, Chino Ebube and Cliff Dunigan joined O'Brien in scoring double-figures. They each had 11 points apiece.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.