HILLSIDE – Kendall Stephens canned a long 3-pointer during the third quarter of Thursday’s Proviso West Holiday Tournament game that the public address announcer quipped was fired “from Roosevelt Road.”
After Stephens re-injured his right shoulder early in the fourth quarter and was forced to the bench in East’s 58-49, second-round loss to Stevenson, the Saints hope their road to a big season hasn’t just veered off course.
With Stephens’ injury fresh and no concrete insight into his status, uncertainty reigned after the game, not to mention a healthy dose of anxiety. The Purdue-bound senior suffered a right labrum tear in preseason practice and so far has succeeded in playing at a high level while managing the soreness.
“Obviously it bothered him enough where he couldn’t come back in,” East coach Pat Woods said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed but we knew what we were dealing with when the season started. We were happy to have him this far. Hopefully we can finish it out with him, but we’ll see.”
Even before the fourth quarter setback, Stephens grimaced in pain on a couple of occasions throughout the game as he absorbed hard contact.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter and with East down, 36-35, Stephens crumpled to the ground off the ball, and lay sprawled on the floor as the Patriots’ Jalen Brunson canned a 3-pointer to give his team a 39-35 lead.
Play was then stopped before Stephens was led toward the bench, where a trainer wrapped his shoulder while the Saints struggled down the stretch in their leader’s absence.
“I didn’t see [what happened], I just saw him go down, and obviously I knew right away what it was,” Woods said. “We’ve had him for [11 games], and hopefully we’ll have him for at least 15, 20, more, but we’ll see.”
While Stephens’ scoring prowess is an obvious loss, East also missed him dearly defensively during the fourth quarter.
The rangy Stephens, who plays at the point of East’s 1-3-1 defense, had a game-high five steals Thursday to go with his 10 points and four rebounds.
The Patriots (9-2) had little trouble protecting their lead late as East (8-3) was unable to draw closer than five points in the late stages.
Junior forward A.J. Washington acknowledged it was tricky keeping focus when Stephens went to the bench.
“It’s hard because he’s a key part of our offense, we try to get him open, and then players that don’t have much time are coming in, trying to knock down big shots when we’re down,” Washington said.
Washington, who scored 14 points and had seven rebounds, was singled out for praise by Woods in an otherwise clunky outing for the Saints.
“We have enough players to keep making plays [without Stephens] but we never got it going today offensively,” Woods said. “ ... We just didn’t play very well is the bottom line.”
Junior point guard Dom Adduci led East with 16 points and hit a long two-pointer that gave East a 35-34 lead to start the fourth quarter.
Adduci, though, missed all seven of his 3-point attempts as part of a 2-for-19 team performance from beyond the arc.
Connor Cashaw and Brunson scored 16 apiece for the Patriots, who move on to the quarterfinals tonight against Maine South.
East was dispatched to the consolation draw, where a 6 p.m. matchup with Glenbard East awaits tonight.
The Saints were hoping to repeat their tournament magic after winning the St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament to start a much-anticipated season that now is cloaked in uncertainty.
“Coach calls [Proviso] our mini-state tournament, and it’s just disappointing to see that we couldn’t go as far as we wanted to,” Washington said.