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PEORIA— Only minutes before the appointed hour, Stevenson was out of sight. Belatedly the team ran out onto the floor, and Jalen Brunson was part of the contingent.
The sense of relief was palpable.
Overcoming the first significant public controversy involving the star junior point guard, the No. 2 Patriots drilled10 three-pointers and produced four double-figure scorers in handling Edwardsville 70-63 in the Class 4A third-place game Saturday at Carver Arena.
Stevenson (32-2) shot 48 percent on three-pointers (10-of-21).
Brunson’s epic and extraordinary 56-point game against Young in the Patriots’ semifinal loss was overshadowed by an inappropriate hand gesture he allegedly made after a three-pointer was waived off by officials with 1:29 remaining Friday night.
Brunson refused to clarify the hand gesture or his subsequent comments posted on his Twitter account that some read as a form of guilt that forced the hand of the IHSA.
“I think it’s best if it is kept between me and my coaching staff and those involved,” Brunson said.
IHSA officials reportedly were demanding Stevenson suspend Brunson for the third-place game on their own accord or the organization would step in and declare him ineligible for the game. Stevenson’s administration, coaching staff and players were prepared to forfeit the game in protest.
“That was under consideration by our superintendent and others,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. Brunson was not cleared to play, according to Ambrose, until “the last minute,” clarifying it as “five minutes before tip off,” adding, that the Patriots “were very thankful to have Jalen as part of [the] team.”
The team showed little signs of stress or emotional fatigue. Unlike Friday night when they appeared tight and overwhelmed, the Patriots were sharp and focused. Senior guard Matt Morrissey, a Michigan State football recruit, converted four three-pointers in scoring all 16 of his points in the first half. Stevenson shot a stunning 8-of-12 on three-pointers in the first half.
“We had a tough shooting day yesterday [against Young], and the whole season we’ve been shooting pretty well,” Morrissey said. The players’ support of Brunson was unwavering. “We had to stay behind Jalen, we’re all brothers, and he is one of the best friends of everybody on the team and the whole team had his back.”
Brunson shook off a poor shooting performance from the field (4-of-11) to score a team-high 18 points. He converted 9 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter after Edwardsville sliced an 18-point deficit to just six points late in the fourth quarter.
He added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. “I put everything out of my head and just focused on the team,” he said.
Junior forward Connor Cashaw shook off a slow first half to score 17 points and add six rebounds, three assists and two steals. He scored eight points in the crucial third quarter as Stevenson utilized a 14-3 run in building a five-point halftime lead to a more commanding 52-36 advantage.
Junior guard Matt Johnson hit two three-pointers and scored eight of his 10 points in the decisive third quarter.
Guard Trevor Clay scored a game-high 21 points for the Tigers (30-4). Shawn Roundtree contributed 16 points and forward Armon Fletcher added 15 points.
“I was very impressed by the guts and determination and effort of all of our players,” Ambrose said. “I said yesterday the sun will rise today and I said we will rise with it.
“We rose today.”