The Evanston Township High School boys basketball team does not have the word "quit" in its vocabulary, as evidenced by a 55-52 come-from-behind victory over Central Suburban League South Conference foe Niles West on Dec. 14 in ETHS’ Beardsley Gym.
In that game, the Wildkits jumped out to an early 9-0 lead, and the offense seemed to be on cruise control as they held a 22-12 lead early in the second quarter. But the Wolves rallied to tie it at 25 at halftime, thanks to a 13-3 run to end the second quarter. Then the Wolves took control in the third, building a 38-34 lead heading into the final quarter. Their lead increased to 45-35 with just over five and a half minutes remaining.
But the Kits did not give up, rallying with junior guard Dante Henley’s layup to take a 51-50 lead with 55 seconds remaining. After the Wolves answered with a bucket on the other end, junior guard Jackson Mihevc missed a 3-point attempt, but senior forward Pete Winslow kept the play alive by grabbing the rebound after a mad scramble for the ball. His put-back fell in place with three seconds to go, giving the Kits a 53-52 lead. Henley then intercepted Niles West’s full-court inbound pass and made two free throws after being fouled, sealing the 55-52 victory.
Henley led the way for the Kits, scoring 16 points while Mihevc scored 11 and Winslow added 7, including the game-winner. With the victory, the Kits improved to 5-5 overall and earned their first CSL South Conference victory and moved to 1-2 in conference play.
"I thought we were up and down. At times we played under control and at times, with 18 turnovers, we played out of control," said Head Coach Mike Ellis. "Our inexperience is something that we will continue to work on throughout the season. We just have to learn from our mistakes."
Regarding Henley’s performance, Ellis said, "Dante was really good tonight. This was one of the better games we have seen Dante play. There were a lot of nervous ball-handlers out there and Dante seemed to be the steadiest when he had the ball in his hands. Almost every play he made was the right play to make.
"Jackson [also] had a solid game. He did a good job of sticking with shots when they did not fall, making plays, [and] he got a few rebounds for us, which we have been asking him to do. … He has done a nice job for us this year of responding to adversity [having been banged up with a thumb injury], and he has done a nice job of battling through that and not letting that get him down. It is good to see him playing that way."
Ellis was very pleased with how his team kept fighting and never gave up, even after getting down by 10 late in the game. "They kept fighting. That is something we needed to see," he said. "We are going to face adversity all season and we have got to be a team that, when we get challenged, we answer the challenges. [Against Niles West] they proved that when we did get challenged, they could answer those. That was good to see. Now we’ve got to take it and move forward with it."
The coach added, "It is early [in the season] and we are just learning. Every game is a learning experience for us. [Against Niles West] we learned that if we take a break or two on defense, that will cost us a swing of 10 points just like that. Fortunately, we stayed with it and that turned out to be the difference in the game. It was good to see our kids stick with it and not drop their heads. I thought they played with a positive energy ... which was good to see."
Next up is a game with archrival New Trier tonight at Northwestern’s Welsh Ryan Arena. After that, they participate in the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament, Dec. 27-29 at Pekin Community High School.
"We have Lake Zurich to open that tournament [on Dec. 27] and that is going to be a tough game," said Ellis. "The Christmas tournament will be a good experience for our kids. It is a great atmosphere and environment for a Christmas tournament. I think it will be a good bonding trip to get away and spend some time together and get to understand each other, being such an inexperienced team."