After playing just four home games in their first 21 games of the season, Head Coach Mike Ellis knew his squad needed to take advantage of the few games they play at Beardsley Gym in the home stretch, and they got off to a good start against Maine South on Jan. 21.
Garrett Jones, a starter for the Evanston boys basketball team since he was a freshman, had a great 19-point performance against Central Suburban League South foe Maine South in a, 51-43, victory, which included nine fourth-quarter points.
“We talked about [memories seniors would have] in the huddle,” Coach Ellis said. “The seniors are not going to have another chance next year. The experiences they go through now are going to be it for them. So what kind of memories are you going to make?”
The Wildkits then erased a, 35-31, deficit as it entered the fourth quarter rather quickly as a pair of consecutive lay-ups by Jones following steals by the Kits. The lay-ups put the Kits on top, 38-37, with 4 minutes, 35 seconds remaining.
Jones and fellow backcourt-mate Jordan Perrin (3 steals) were able to tinker with their game plan, while Maine South forward Matt Palucki (12 points, 5 rebounds) was being tended to after taking an inadvertent shot to the jaw.
After a Palucki free throw in the fourth quarter, Jones buried his third three-pointer of the night from the corner with 2:43 to go, giving Evanston a, 46-41, advantage. Jones also hit two free throws with 22.9 seconds left to extend the cushion to 50-43 and ice the game.
After the game, Jones and the Wildkits said they felt lucky to be within five points at halftime considering how poorly they thought they played in the first half.
“We were so mad in the first half because we knew that we played very sloppy,” Jones said. “We gave them too many free throws and we were just lazy on defense with rotations. The whole second half the talk was jumping to the help-side, and being on the balls of your feet to lock up.”
Evanston also got help from Clarke Rosenberg, who scored six of his 13 points in the third quarter, Farr (4 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks), Leonard Garron (4 points, 3 steals) and Randy Ollie (4 points).
Just a week later, Evanston found themselves in another first place showdown in Beardsley, this time against an upstart Waukegan team.
With a piece of first place in the Central Suburban League South at stake that night in Evanston, Waukegan’s senior guard Aaron Johnson knew it was time to put the Bulldogs on his back.
The three-year varsity starter torched the nets for 39 points, including 17 during a, 25-4, run that helped turn the Bulldogs’ 11-point, third-quarter deficit into a 10-point fourth-quarter lead on the way to a, 68-65, Waukegan victory after Garrett Jones’ three-point attempt bounced off the back iron as time expired.
With about four minutes left in the third quarter, Evanston guard Mike Rice (8 points) drilled a three-pointer to give the Wildkits a, 42-31, lead. Johnson then sparked a furious comeback by Waukegan with a pair of lay-ups off steals, getting help from sophomore Devonte Taylor (8 points, 3 steals), who also had a pair of transition baskets off turnovers.
With Waukegan trailing by three with just over one minute to go in the third period, Johnson pulled up for a three-pointer and swished it to tie the game at 44-44.
Wildkits senior guard Garrett Jones (18 points, 5 assists, 2 steals) buried his third trey of the game on the ensuing possession to spark a good run by the Wildkits that ended when Clarke Rosenberg (14 points, 5 rebounds) drained a pair of free throws to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 60-59 with 3:39 remaining.
But Johnson, who shot a sizzling 10 of 12 from the field in the second half, was not to be stopped.
With each team trading impressive runs during the second half, Evanston coach Mike Ellis was disappointed his squad could not come up with a defensive stand during the end of the third quarter.
“It was two teams not wanting to lose,” Coach Ellis said. “We had a lead and they didn’t want to lose, then they had a lead and we didn’t want to lose. They made the plays down the stretch and we couldn’t come up with any stops. We made it too easy for them tonight.”
The Wildkits are now, 16-6, overall and share a, 5-2, conference record with Waukegan. They await their seeding in the upcoming New Trier sectional. Evanston goes to Skokie this Friday night to take on Niles West, then face St. Ignatius on Saturday at Loyola. They then go against the Trevians of New Trier next Saturday afternoon rather than on their traditional Friday night show-downs at Welch-Ryan Arena.