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Lake Forest's Evan Boudreaux (left) moves to the hoop around Marian Catholic's John Oliver Saturday. | Patrick Gleason/for Sun-Times Media
LAKE FOREST — It was the first week of summer basketball in June.
After a hard practice, Lake Forest boys coach Phil LaScala stood up in front of his team inside the locker room adjacent to the Scouts’ home gym.
“He asked, ‘Who thinks we can win state?’ ” senior guard Ryan Bender said. “None of us was sure except Evan [Boudreaux].”
LaScala added, “It was sort of quiet. I said, ‘If you don’t believe, then get the hell out of here.’”
Friday night, Lake Forest overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter and took mighty Stevenson into two overtimes. Minutes after a 95-93 defeat, LaScala asked his team the same question he had months before.
Only this time, the answers were more definitive.
“They believe now they can play with anybody and beat anybody,” LaScala said.
Competition Gymnasium on Lake Forest’s East Campus has never had more people inside for a basketball game (estimates were close to 2,000), nor has it seen more drama. The Scouts, who have played three overtime games in their past four February home contests, not only came one shot away from a significant upset, but did so with Patriots superstar Jalen Brunson having one of the greatest games in North Suburban Conference history.
When Brunson weaved through the Scouts’ defense for a layup that gave him 40 points on the night, Stevenson had what appeared to be an insurmountable 70-56 lead with six minutes remaining in regulation. But, almost four minutes later, Bender was fouled intentionally by Stevenson junior Connor Cashaw. Bender made one of two free throws, capping a 15-3 run sparked by his defensive pressure (two steals during the stretch).
“With any comeback, you have to get stops. [Brunson] was going off in the fourth quarter and we couldn’t stop him,” Bender said. “So we decided to go jump and run on him, double the ball in the backcourt.”
As Stevenson doubled Lake Forest star junior Evan Boudreaux (career-high 43 points) in the post, it was Bender who benefitted from the open floor space. He took advantage by draining shot after shot, including a driving layup with three seconds left that sent the game into overtime tied at 78-78.
Brunson continued to amaze in overtime, darting and weaving his way through the Scouts’ defense like an Olympic ice skater in sneakers (he finished with 57 points). But Bender matched him, converting a three-point dagger to send the game into a second overtime.
“I felt like I was a spectator watching Bender. It was unbelievable,” said junior guard Jack Traynor, who had fouled out.
If the contest were a Hollywood production, Bender’s final three-point shot in the second overtime would have caromed off the back iron and bounced in. Instead it flew out, leaving Lake Forest a few points short as the clock struck zero. Never have the Scouts felt better about a loss or about their chances in what should be a thrilling postseason.
“I’m really bummed about the loss, but we know we can play with anybody in the state,” Bender said.