Fresh off of a 34 point blowout of Niles West on Dec. 17, Head Coach Mike Ellis’ team was brimming with confidence going into the DeKalb Chuck Dayton Holiday Tournament and knew their one-week, five-game gauntlet would only make them better.
First for Evanston was Harlem in which the Kits took control from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Clinging to a, 28-23, halftime lead, the Wildkits pulled away behind the outside shooting of Garrett Jones (20 points, 6 rebounds) and inside presence of James Farr (18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks) to help Evanston win, 70-47.
“We had a lot of good passing and decision-making down the stretch,” Coach Ellis said. “That really helped us to pull away late.”
After another easy, 60-46, win the next day against Jefferson, the Kits faced Burlington Central in which the senior star Jones stepped up big in the scoring column. Evanston jumped to a, 7-0, lead just over a minute into the game. Leonard Garron scored on a rebound, Clarke Rosenberg added an inside hoop and Jones netted a fast-break layup, was fouled and sank the free throw.
The Wildkits continued to attack the basket and dominate the boards against the smaller Rockets, whose tallest starter was 6-foot-3 forward Sam Klein. The size difference helped the Kits get eight lay-ups and seven second-chance baskets in the first half.
Jones hit his third three-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer to give Evanston a, 29-12, lead, scoring 12 points with Garron and Rosenberg adding six apiece in the period.
Jones did his part, making 7 of 10 shots in the first half, including 4 of 5 three-pointers, as Evanston built a, 48-27, halftime lead. He capped the big first half by beating his defender on a one-on-one clear out with a spinning layup at the second-quarter buzzer.
“It was basically bouncing back from yesterday,” said Jones, who scored six points against Jefferson. “Even though we got the win, I was a little bit disappointed in myself for not playing as hard as I should have against the box-and-one that (Jefferson) played against me.”
Evanston out rebounded Burlington Central, 35-21, for the game, thanks to 21 offensive rebounds, including 23-9 in the first half. The Wildkits did that despite 6 foot, eight inch center James Farr being in foul trouble most of the half.
The Kits played 11 players by early in the second quarter, and eight scored in the first half, while 6 foot, five inch junior Matt Munro picked up the rebounding slack with five offensive rebounds in the second quarter.
Evanston led by as many as 24 points in the second half, and Burlington Central never got closer than 68-50 on two free throws by Klein (team-high 22 points). The game ended with a final score of 72-52.
The Kits’ semi-final game against Metea Valley was a change of pace because Evanston had to fight to the end for their shot at the title game.
The Wildkits started out well enough, jumping to a 7-0 lead for the second game in a row. They extended their, 14-10, first-quarter lead to 32-23 at halftime, but then literally got off to a bad start in the second half as Metea Valley (8-6) cut its deficit to four points, 42-38, after three quarters.
Evanston did get the job done with its perimeter defense that limited Metea Valley to only three three-pointers after the Mustangs had sank nine and five treys in their previous two games. The Kits’ defense held off the Mustangs all the way, winning, 58-51.
As a Division I prospect, Jones knows he needs to make big time plays, and he did exactly that in the holiday tournament’s championship game against Chicago Vocational. The game was for the most part shaky on Evanston’s side as they trailed for most of both halfs.
Chicago Vocational led, 35-28, at halftime behind the hot shooting of all-tourney pick Robert Hurd, who was 6 for 6 on three-pointers for 20 first-half points. Hurd finished with a game-high 28 points, but he only attempted one shot in the fourth quarter, when the Cavaliers were 4 of 10 from the field after taking 16 and 17 shots in the second and third periods.
But in the end, Evanston slowly made baskets and started making plays and looked to their sharp-shooter to win the trophy. With 14 seconds left and the game tied at 61, Clarke Rosenberg brought the ball over mid-court, and then drove toward the free-throw line before dishing the ball to Garrett Jones, who sank a wide-open three-pointer from the left corner at the buzzer to give Evanston a dramatic, 64-61, win the championship.
The Kits, who are 13-3, will now take on their rival New Trier at Welch-Ryan Arena this Friday, a big conference match up. They then play at home against St. Joseph next Tuesday, then go to Glenview to take on Glenbrook South next Friday.