Despite a nail-biting 75-68 loss to the Whitney Young Dolphins in the Class 4A state basketball tournament, Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson rose to the occasion Friday night at the Peoria Civic Center, breaking an individual state tournament record with 56 points. He broke the mark previously set by Jim Edmondson of Hinckley High School back in 1984, when Edmondson went for 55 points against Winnebago.
But in the storybook matchup against the Dolphins, Brunson came out hot from 3-point land, shooting an astounding 50 percent from beyond the arc, 53 percent from the field, and 17-for-23 from the charity stripe to give him the 56 points. But even with the amazing stat line Brunson had, the fact that they would not be advancing to the state championship, in his mind, overshadowed his record-breaking night.
“I just feel like we gave it all we had. They just played better than us for 32 minutes and I think if we had about 34 minutes total, maybe we could have pulled it out, he said, breaking down into tears before dropping his head into his hands. "But there are no regrets. I put everything into this season and I just can’t be more thankful for Conor [Cashaw] and coach Ambrose for supporting me through everything."
Stevenson head coach Patrick Ambrose was also visibly drought about the loss, as he sat with co-captains Brunson and Cashaw during the postgame press conference, but before addressing the heart-wrenching loss he paid tribute to the amount of heart his players left out there on the court.
“The biggest thing I want to comment on is the warrior mentality of our two players sitting next to me and our entire team not giving up. Not backing down. Not even flinching when they were presented with any challenge, any player, or any situation. They showed their true colors of how absolutely, incredibly tough, and how just gifted they are as human beings; to preserve though some things that didn’t go our way and to keep on fighting until the end. Diving for lose balls especially that loose ball there in the corner at the very end that would seem like no one would ever even come close to getting but one of our players does that,” he continued.
“That’s what I will remember most and for that I am very proud of our entire team but particularly our captains who just laid it out there; everything they had they left it out there. That’s what I asked them to do before the game and they did it.”
Brunson did, however, reveal a brief smile when he made a joke following a question about whether he would ever be able to sit down and watch his historic performance.
“Probably when I’m 30, maybe,” he joked. “It is just going to sit for a while, but like coach said: We have to keep our heads up high and just focus on tomorrow and try to win third place.”
Stevenson will face Edwardsville for the third place title Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
“It was tough but like I said, there are no regrets,” Brunson said before exiting the room.