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No. 14 Stevenson looked like a well-oiled machine during it’s 62-35 non-conference win over Evanston Tuesday night.
Sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson finished with a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Patriots (21-4), who pulled away midway through the first quarter and never looked back.
Brunson finished 8-of-17 from the field — and five of his makes were shots he banked in off the glass.
“Banking shots in like that isn’t something that anyone taught me, it’s just me playing the game as it comes,” Brunson, who shoots lefty, said. “If I’m that close, why not use the backboard, you know? It’s just easier sometimes. It doesn’t matter how it goes in as long as I get the bucket and try and help my team win.
Brunson and his teammates may have also been motivated by the fact NBA star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was in attendance, as the host Patriots used a tenacious man-to-man defense that forced 16 Evanston turnovers in the first half alone, and 22 total.
According to Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose, he was unaware Kidd-Gilchrist — a 6-7 small forward who was the second overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft — was going to attend the game. Kidd-Gilchrist knew Jalen as a child when they both lived in New Jersey, according to Ambrose, and is friends with his family.
“Having someone who’s an NBA player come and watch you play on his night off is something that definitely does motivate you,” Ambrose said. “He talked to our guys and gave us some words of advice and encouragement. He’s a nice person and a regular person, and it makes you realize NBA players are guys just like us who are good human beings. It’s pretty special for our kids. It’s not something that happens very often.”
Connor Cashaw (19 points) and Andy Stempel (10 points) also finished in double-figures for Stevenson, who held Evanston’s starting five to just 12 points combined.
The Wildkits (7-17) got a team-high 17 points off the bench from junior guard C.J. Singletary. No one else on their roster scored more than three points, however, as Evanston shot an ice-cold 31.4 percent (17-for-54) from the field.
“We were really ready for some of the stuff Evanston tried to do tonight, and a lot of the credit for our defensive effort goes to our assistant coach John Taylor,” Ambrose said. “He was an All-American honorable mention when he was at St. Norbert, and is probably the best defensive player I’ve ever coached.
“He was also heck of a defensive player here (at Stevenson) when we went downstate (in 2007). He does a great job kind of being our defensive coordinator.”
Tuesday was the 11th win in a row for the streaking Patriots, who were issued the top seed in the upcoming Waukegan Class 4A sectional and wrap up their North Suburban Conference Lake Division schedule at home against Mundelein on Friday night.
Even with a loss in that contest, they can do no worse than tie for the division lead with Zion-Benton — and also own the tie-breaker because they’ve beaten the Zee-Bees twice.
“I think we’re all just buying into what coach Ambrose is trying to do,” Brunson said. “I think the team chemistry on this team this year is way better than last year. Plus, all the hard work we’re putting in is really paying off.”