PEORIA — After a day filled with controversy surrounding the suspension — and reversal of the suspension — of Stevenson junior point guard Jalen Brunson, the Patriots still had a Class 4A third-place game to play and came out on top with a 70-63 win over Edwardsville on Saturday night.
Brunson started the game for Stevenson and played nearly the entire night as the junior registered 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
"I think when I'm on the basketball court I feel at home," Brunson said after the game. "I'm just thankful that I was able to play."
While the Patriots took a bit to get to the floor for warm-ups — as they awaited the IHSA ruling on Brunson — they still came ready to face Edwardsville as Stevenson shot 47 percent (10-for-21) from the three-point line. After no other Stevenson player scored more than four points during Brunson's 56-point Friday-night performance in a loss to Whitney Young, the junior point guard had plenty of support from his teammates on Saturday.
Junior guard Connor Cashaw scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds for Stevenson while senior guard Matt Morrissey also added 16 points. Junior Matt Johnson also contributed 10 points for the Patriots.
"I'm very proud of our players for the way they came out and played tonight," Stevenson head coach Pat Ambrose said.
Edwardsville (30-4) fought to stay in the game until the very end, but ultimately couldn't get over the hump against Stevenson. The Patriots led by 18 points with 4:27 left in the game before the Tigers cut it to single-digits in the game's final minutes. Stevenson led for the final 30 minutes of the game.
Senior guard Trevor Clay led the Tigers with 21 points while senior point guard Shawn Roundtree added 16 points and senior forward Armon Fletcher, a Southern Illinois commit, chipped in with 15 points. Edwardsville shot 52 percent from the field (25-for-48) but struggled from the three-point line as they only shot 3-for-18 (16 percent) from distance.
Ambrose said that before the game, there was talk of Stevenson boycotting the game if Brunson was suspended.
"That was under consideration, but our superintendent was still making a decision right until the last moment," Ambrose said of the decision.
The Patriots (32-2) learned of the IHSA's ruling on Brunson only minutes before tip-off and started the game with a minimal warm-up.
"(We found out about Jalen) about five minutes before tip-off," Ambrose said. "I've never seen them change that fast and boy were they excited."
Brunson opted to remain quiet about the craziness of the day away from the floor.
"I think it's best to be kept between me, and my coaching staff and the people that were involved. (My choice is to) just to keep it between us," Brunson said.
The junior's teammates also were fully supportive of Jalen during the situation with the IHSA.
"The whole time we wanted to stay behind Jalen. We're all brothers on this team and we're all best friends and he's like a brother to me and the whole time I had his back and the whole team had his back," Morrissey said. "I think it was tough for all of us, but right now we're just excited for the win."
Stevenson's third-place finish comes on the heels of last year's runner-up finish for the Patriots when they fell to Simeon, 51-36, in the Class 4A state championship game.
With four starters returning next season, including Brunson, Cashaw and Johnson — as well as junior forward Parker Nichols — the Patriots should be a major threat to make it back to Peoria again next season.