Friday night's clash between North Suburban Lake rivals Stevenson and Zion-Benton was one for the ages and a game that fans in Lake County are sure to be talking about for quite some time. The Hive was buzzing as the unbeaten — and formerly No. 1 — Stevenson Patriots rolled into Zion-Benton to face the No. 8 Zee-Bees.
And what a game it was!
Zion-Benton held on for the 70-69 win in overtime as both teams scored go-ahead buckets in the game's final 15 seconds. Zion-Benton junior Fred Calvert hit the game-winning shot — the first of his career — after it looked like Stevenson had once again rallied from behind to take the lead for good just like the Patriots' furious comeback at the end of regulation to help put the game into overtime.
But how about the resolve of Zion-Benton? The Zee-Bees dealt with foul trouble to star players Milik Yarbrough and Admiral Schofield in the first half, but bench players like Jerome Davis, Calvert and feisty starting guard Maurice Young did their best to keep Zion-Benton in the game until Yarbrough got rolling with his scoring touch in the second half. Davis was active on the interior, going for 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Calvert hit the game-winning shot and Young defended Jalen Brunson as well as anyone has all season as he helped hold the star junior guard to 9-for-36 shooting.
Then, when the Zee-Bees needed Yarbrough, he stepped up with one of the biggest shots of the entire season. Trailing by three on the final possession with under 20 seconds left, the 6-foot-6 senior dribbled down the weak side of the floor, and even though everyone in the building knew Yarbrough was taking the game-tying attempt, Milik was still able to create space from his defender using a great step-back move as he launched and buried the tying three-pointer to put the game into overtime.
Zion-Benton held on from there for their biggest win of the season. At 13-1, the No. 6 Zee-Bees are in the driver's seat of the North Suburban Lake for now, but you get the feeling that No. 4 Stevenson will linger for the entire conference race.
Focusing on the Patriots for a minute, they had a sub-par shooting performance from Brunson — who still managed a game-high 27 points — were missing third leading scorer and ace defender Matt Johnson due to a one-game suspension and still nearly had a chance to pull off this big road victory.
Connor Cashaw continued to show that he's one of the state's best juniors with his 25-point, 12-rebound outing and the Patriots forced Zion-Benton into 28 turnovers.
Still, there were some troubling signs for Stevenson. What the heck happened to the Patriots at the end of the third quarter? Stevenson cleared a defensive rebound with just under a minute left and led Zion-Benton 44-38 with a chance for the final shot of the quarter to potentially push that six-point lead even further entering the fourth.
Then a quick turnover off that Stevenson defensive rebound led to a Zion-Benton layup, and after a rushed three-point attempt from the Patriots, Zion-Benton buried a three on the other end to cut that lead to 44-43. Connor Cashaw had a layup at the buzzer to give Stevenson the 46-43 lead going into the fourth quarter, but it was a disastrous stretch for the Patriots.
For Stevenson to have that lead go from six to three — with a chance to make that six-point lead even bigger going into the fourth — on the road against a potent offense is inexcusable and it ultimately was very costly for the Patriots.
Stevenson obviously had other chances to win — and that third-quarter stretch wasn't the immediate reason the Patriots lost — but that shift in momentum gave Zion-Benton an emotional lift entering the fourth quarter and the Zee-Bees used it to get past the No. 1 in the area.
Mark your calendars for Friday, February 7th, folks. That's the rematch between Zion-Benton and Stevenson as the Zee-Bees will travel to Lincolnshire. The race for the North Suburban Lake is far from over as Lake Forest is still a talented team and Warren is playing tremendous ball after going 3-1 at Pontiac and beating the Scouts last week.
Curie outlasts North Chicago
The matchup of Stevenson and Zion-Benton wasn't the only matchup of top-10 teams this weekend. In fact, the clash of No. 3 Curie and No. 5 North Chicago was the rare non-conference matchup of top-five teams as the two squared off Sunday in the finale of the Bob Hambric Shootout at T.F. North.
Cliff Alexander paced the now No. 2 Condors (13-1) to a 75-59 win over the Warhawks, scoring 29 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking five shots, but Curie came out sluggish and was actually trailing 39-27 at the half before they finally woke up.
North Chicago (13-2) also had some bad luck on their side. The No. 9 Warhawks lost player-of-the-year candidate JayQuan McCloud to an ankle injury during the third quarter and their other star seniors, Kurt Hall and Javairus Amos-Mays were saddled with foul trouble.
The Warhawks are still the easy favorite in the North Suburban Prairie and a real contender in Class 3A, but can they get over the hump against Public League powers like Curie? North Chicago doesn't have to worry about Cliff Alexander and the Condors again, but they do have to worry about No. 3 Orr, who knocked off North Chicago in last season's Class 3A Supersectional at Hoffman Estates.