Stevenson finishes strong against Metea Valley

Stevenson repeatedly tried to dust Metea Valley, and the Patriots eventually got it done.

At Wheaton Warrenville South's fourth Martin Luther King boys basketball tournament Saturday the Patriots stormed to an early lead and took two separate 7-point leads in the third quarter.

Dogged Metea Valley climbed within a point in the last 4:28 before Stevenson finished for a 61-53 victory.

"We got some stops and then we were able to kind of spread them out a little bit and get some easy baskets at the end, some layups," said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose, a 1987 Naperville North graduate attuned to DuPage County basketball.

His Patriots (11-4) advanced to a second-round winner's bracket game against Downers Grove South, also on Saturday.

In the first half, which Stevenson led 25-21, hot-shooting Ryuji Aoki and forward Justin Smith found their groove. In the second half the Patriots added Rodney Herenton Jr., Willie Herenton and Jordan Newman to the mix. Aoki led all scorers with 23 points, Smith scored 15 and Willie Herenton added 10.

"If one guy's hot we can go to him, or if a different guy's hot we can go to him. It gives us a lot of options," said Smith, whose eight scholarship offers include bids by Indiana, Wisconsin and Wake Forest.

Metea Valley coach Bob Vozza noticed.

"There just seemed to be big moments when we'd make a run, take the lead, get close, there'd be a turnover and put them on a run," Vozza said after Metea dropped to 7-9. "Even us making a good play and then them making an outstanding athletic play. Stuff like that all game."

Mustangs 6-foot-5 sophomore Malik Hall, who scored 19 points to sparkplug Dei'Ron DeLaRosa's 15, led the second-half charge. Hall notched the rare four-point play plus two three-point conversions.

"(Vozza) just said slow down, run the plays and then just look for whoever's open, and then attack," Hall said.

Stevenson led 45-38 after three quarters but Hall, Matt Helwig and Jeremy Hunter set Metea within 49-48 with 4:28 to go. Smith converted Eric Zalewski's alley-oop pass to start a 7-2 run. A DeLaRosa 3 had Metea back within 56-53 with 1:28 to play.

Aoki swished a free throw, then in a pair of those athletic plays Smith blocked a shot off the backboard, Aoki rebounded, and Ambrose called time. Once back, Metea trapped Smith up high and the forward used his 6-7 height to see Newman on the low block for a 59-53 lead with 31 seconds remaining. Willie Herenton added 2 free throws for the clincher.

"I was like, all right, it's going to be my ball so I got it," Smith said about the blocked shot. "On the trap I was just being patient, looking through the defense like coach told me to do and I found the open man."

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