LOMBARD | Mike Taylor meant it when he said of Stevenson's Jalen Brunson, "I'd pay to see him go play."
Top-ranked Marian Catholic's mentor had just witnessed Brunson's dissection of the Spartans' defense up close in the course of Stevenson's 76-66 victory during the final game of the three-game showcase at Glenbard East.
Brunson scored 32 points, pulled down five rebounds, and generally controlled the Patriots' attack, especially in the second half, when he scored 25 of his points.
The defeat was Marian's second of the season, and first against in-state competition. It came to a team they may well see again in March.
"That's a sectional, supersectional, semifinal game," Taylor said of the matchup of the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the AP Class 4A poll, with Marian coming in at No. 2.
Brunson, a 6-foot-2 junior, outplayed Tyler Ulis, Marian's Kentucky-bound senior. Ulis scored 23 points, 21 in the second half, but was in concert with his teammates in being perhaps a quarter-step off the pace set by Stevenson (17-1).
"Our defense just got into his head," Brunson said of Ulis. "He was getting frustrated."
Brunson guarded Ulis throughout, but Marian (15-2) put forward John Oliver on Brunson because of Oliver's size. He picked up two fouls before seven minutes had been played. Brunson scored the first of his nine field goals shortly thereafter.
The pace made all the difference in the third quarter, when Stevenson's 12-point run broke open a game the Spartans had trailed by a point. By the end of the quarter, Brunson had scored 12 of Stevenson's 28 points, while the Spartans had managed only 13.
"It was the third quarter, but the tone was set early," Taylor said. "They were a step ahead. Honestly, they were better prepared than we were. We weren't on all cylinders."
Brunson's 32, Connor Cashaw's 20 points and Matt Johnson's 16 were enough to take the Spartans down by themselves. T.J. Parham added 16 for Marian, but only he and Ulis were in double-figures. Ezra Pointer-Jones came off the bench to earn eight points and pull down six rebounds, but Ki-Jana Crawford, perhaps more frustrated than Ulis, managed only three points and picked up an untimely technical foul in the final minute. He was one of three Spartans to foul out.
In losing, Taylor gets one benefit. He'll have the undivided ear of his players.
"This is a great lesson for us," Taylor said.
One he'd rather they don't learn again.