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PEORIA — Young, victorious, walked off the court while the Carver Arena PA played Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Meanwhile, Stevenson received a standing ovation from the crowd, appreciative of Jalen Brunson’s record-setting performance Friday.
It wasn’t the state championship game, but it sure felt like it. The arena was filled with energy and two fabulous high school basketball stars, Brunson and Young’s Jahlil Okafor, put on a show for the ages.
Young won the Class 4A state semifinal game 75-68. The top-ranked Dolphins will be heavy favorites in Saturday’s title game against the winner of Benet-Edwardsville.
Okafor lived up to every single drop of his four years of high school hype. The 6-10 Duke recruit scored 33 points on 13-for-15 shooting. He grabbed 14 rebounds and dunked the ball four times. Stevenson, whose tallest player is 6-5 Parker Nichols, didn’t have anyone capable of defending him.
“[I knew that] before the game even started,” Okafor said. “I’m leaving everything on the floor the next two games. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure we don’t lose.”
Brunson did everything possible to steal the spotlight for the No. 2 Patriots. The 6-2 junior played a single-minded, ferocious game, scoring with abandon. He finished with 56 points, a state tournament record. Brunson shot 16-for-30, 7-14 from three and 17-for-23 from the free-throw line.
Hinckley-Big Rock’s Jim Edmonson was the previous record holder. He scored 55 points in a supersectional game against Winnebago in 1984.
Brunson was emotional after the game, unable to appreciate his record-breaking performance so soon after the loss.
“Probably when I’m 30 maybe,” Brunson said. “You just have to focus on tomorrow now.”
The Dolphins were in command the entire game. A technical foul on Okafor for protesting a call threatened to derail Young in the fourth quarter. It was Okafor’s fourth foul and the Patriots managed to cut the lead to 51-49 with 5:11 to play on two free throws from Brunson.
Paul White stepped up at that point. He converted a traditional three-point play and assisted Erwin Henry on a basket.
“I knew my teammates needed me at that time,” said White. “That was a very crucial point of the game.”
Brunson scored Stevenson’s final 21 points, but was unable to pull the Patriots closer than five.
“I just feel like I gave it all I had,” said Brunson. “They just played better than us. No regrets. I put everything into this season.”
White finished with 15 points, Henry had 11 and Miles Reynolds added 10 for Young (27-5).
“I think we have to commend Stevenson and Jalen in particular for a valiant effort,” said Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. “They had no other player with more than four points. That was the ball game.”
Young held Connor Cashaw, Matt Johnson and Matt Morrissey to just four points each. Brunson scored all but 12 points for the Patriots (31-2).
“Two gifted players gave a performance that seems to be one for the ages,” said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose. “Tomorrow the sun will get up and we will sort of rise.”