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Stevenson's Jalen Brunson shoots a free throw during the fourth quarter of Friday's IHSA class 4A semifinal game against Young at the Peoria Civic Center's Carver Arena in Peoria, March 21, 2014. Young won the game, 75-68. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Time m
PEORIA—On Feb. 21, Jalen Brunson scored 57 points in a Stevenson victory over Lake Forest. It was a performance no witness to the contest thought could be repeated.
They were wrong.
Friday, in the 4A state semifinal game against Young, Brunson put on an offensive show never before seen during an IHSA tournament game. His 56 points were a state tournament record, a tour de force that guarantees his legacy in Peoria. But it wasn’t enough to secure a Stevenson victory, as the Patriots lost to the Dolphins 75-68, failing to advance to Saturday’s championship game for what would have been the second straight season.
“I feel like we gave it everything we (had),” Brunson said, who shot 16-of-30 from the field and made 17-of-23 free throws but no assists. “They just played better than us for 32 minutes. I think if we have 34 minutes we could have pulled it out.”
The Dolphins defended Brunson as most teams have this postseason, not with a double team but using multiple defenders. Sophomore Rodney Herenton picked him up long in the front court, only to have 6-foot-9 senior Paul White switch once Stevenson was in the half court. Early in the game, Brunson stayed back, content with shooting from the perimeter (four of his first seven shots were from three-point range).
As the game wore on, and White, Herenton and senior guard Miles Reynolds got into foul trouble, it forced them to sag on Brunson, allowing lanes for him to drive. No better example was an 8-2 run by Stevenson that cut a 43-34 late third quarter lead to 45-42 with 7:10 left in the game. Brunson scored all eight points, six of them coming on drives to the basket.
But for all of Brunson’s brilliance, no secondary option emerged for Stevenson. When two Brunson free throws made the score 51-49 with 5:11 remaining in the game, two ensuing possessions resulted in missed jump shots from juniors Connor Cashaw (2-of-11 shooting) and Parker Nichols (0-for-3). A 7-1 Young run effectively ended the Patriots' chances, validating the Dolphins' strategy of letting Brunson score, just not letting him beat them.
“We weren’t really concerned about him scoring points. The tell of the tape is when you look at the stat sheet, no other player had more than four points. That was the ball game,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said.
A devastated Brunson was almost inconsolable after the game. He walked off the court to a standing ovation by the Peoria Civic Center crowd, a gesture of appreciation of the greatness they witnessed.
“There are no regrets. I put everything into this season,” Brunson said.