7 Days in Late December: Turning Points

New Year's Eve, the final day, sneaks up on you.

Everything is going as planned.

Stevenson and Morgan Park in the 'ship.

Both teams cruised through the quarter- and semi-finals.

Jalen Brunson did much of the heavy lifting for Stevenson. But Morgan Park didn't act as you expected. You wanted Josh or Kain to act like Jalen.

After the Maine South game, something interesting happened to Morgan Park: They finally got healthy. For the first time all season, Nick Irvin had his entire team suited up and ready to play. The two games leading up to the championship felt like chess matches.

Nick moved his pieces around, tried to find the perfect combination. His tinkering produced convincing wins, but no more 30-plus point performances, which might have been too much to ask for.

So now you're mouthing along to the national anthem and thinking about Jalen vs. Morgan Park, instead of Jalen vs. Josh or Jalen vs. Kain.

Something sentimental flies through your head about America and togetherness and the purity of sport.

When a veteran walks out to present the game ball, Nick tells his players to stand up and applaud. Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose tells his kids to do the same.

Something sentimental flies through your head about sports turning boys into men. You're happy when the game starts. No time for sentiments.

Both teams come out physical, trying to prove a point.

Stevenson wants to prove that a North Suburban team can exchange blows with a South Side team.

Morgan Park wants to prove that they are always the toughest team on the court.
They exchange baskets for most of the half.

Morgan Park jumps out to a 16-10 lead in the second quarter. But Stevenson responds with an eight to zero run.

Morgan Park leads by two at halftime, 25-23.

Morgan Park is a second-half team. You expect either Kain, or Josh, to take over and put the championship away. You expect Morgan Park to become the fifth school to repeat at the Holiday Tournament.

Then Josh fouls Jalen in the paint, and Jalen converts the and-one.

Josh's third foul.

Seconds later, Josh picks up his fourth.

Nick pulls him.

It's up to Kain, but Kain's having an off day. Against Maine South, he could hit with his eyes closed. He's cooled off and the game remains tight as the third quarter draws to a close.

It happens fast.

With less than 10 seconds left, you see a Stevenson player get tangled up with a Morgan Park player after a free throw.

You recognize both. Matt Johnson from Stevenson has 10 points and is a big reason why this game is so close. Torry Johnson from Morgan Park is a senior starter.

They remain tangled, awkwardly jogging to the other end of the court.

Nick's pleading with the refs, as he has been doing for most of the game.

You don't know what happens first.

All you know is that Matt and Torry are on the hardwood floor.

And Nick is about to lose it.

The ref tells Nick to sit down.

Nick never sits down. There isn't even an open chair available for him.

He never sits down.

The ref tells him to sit down.

The ref ejects Matt and Torry.

The ref gives Nick a technical.

Nick never sits down.

The ref makes him sit down.

Someone finds a chair, and Nick has to sit down.

You've never seen Nick sit during a game, because Nick never sits down.

When the dust settles, Jalen steps up to take his two technical shots; makes them both. 41-40. Stevenson ball with seconds left.

Jalen hits a three at the buzzer. A dagger.

Forty-four to 40 heading into the forth and Stevenson doesn't look back. With Josh in foul trouble, Kain not feeling it and Nick resigned to sitting like a child in timeout, Morgan Park couldn't pull it off.

No history for Morgan Park.

Instead Stevenson won their first tournament in school history and Jalen won Tournament MVP.

You leave the gym and walk into a blizzard.

You pass Capone's graveyard, and leave the ghosts behind.

O'Banion, Nitti, Alex Dragicevich, Ronnie Fields, Jon Scheyer. You leave all of them in the parking lot and head back to the city.

Tomorrow you'll read in the Sun-Times how "a dust-up" changed the game. You'll read about Jalen and his 23 points. Josh and Kain with their 11.

You'll read about the game and think about Nick sitting.

Your back hurts.