Two weeks ago, Evanston was tied at the top of the CSL South with Waukegan and New Trier. For them to clinch the conference title outright, the Kits had to beat Glenbrook South at home and have the Bulldogs and Trevians lose at home on the same night. It is safe to say Evanston indeed won the conference crown with a little help from their friends, which turned out to be Maine South and Niles West.
All that Head Coach Mike Ellis was worried about was that his team would take care of their business, which they did and more in a decisive 56-32 win over the Titans.
Eleven different players scored for the Kits, including 9 points by both Andrew Gillett and James Farr, and 8 from Garrett Jones. That’s the only kind of sharing Jones and his teammates had in mind on Senior Night.
“It’s just a great feeling to be back on top, where we knew we could be from the beginning of the season,” said Jones. “Tonight we were able to finish things off even though we had a slow start. We’re really happy to get this one.”
Gillett and Ryan Williams earned rare starts as Coach Ellis continued the program tradition of starting seniors in the final regular-season home contest. Gillett ended up playing more than 18 minutes and also contributed two steals and an assist.
In a game with no real flow in the first half, it was the senior guard’s steal with Evanston nursing a 19-12 lead in the final seconds of the half that provided some momentum.
Gillett snatched the ball away from GBS’ Justin Busiel and his layup gave Evanston a 9-point edge. The Wildkits then outscored the Titans 22-7 in the third period as GBS committed 27 turnovers overall and stumbled to its sixth straight defeat.
Ellis saw his team snap a three-game losing skid and insisted all through the season that championships would come only if the Wildkits improved as a team every day.
“We weren’t a team that was scoreboard-watching all season,” Ellis said. “We started out so far behind we only had time to take care of us, if we could.
“For me this year is all about building the program. What I’ve done in the past in Peoria isn’t important to the Evanston community. We’re trying to build a foundation that points the way for future students here to achieve some goals.”
Last Wednesday, the Kits played their last regular season game at home against Niles North, champions of the CSL North in a crossover championship title game.
The 6-foot-6 senior star came up big at nearly every big moment and carried the Vikings to a 62-55 win over host Evanston to win the CSL championship.
Even though Evanston senior James Farr was on the bench for all but two minutes of the first half with foul trouble, the Wildkits took a 32-30 lead into halftime, behind 10 points from leading scorer Clarke Rosenberg (16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals).
whatever Niles North needed that night, Abdel Nader provided.
However, the Vikings opened up the second half on a 10-0 run capped by Montreal Sykes’ transition layup after Nader swatted a shot, grabbed the rebound and passed it ahead to him. The Vikings defense held the Wildkits to two points in the quarter and forced six turnovers to take a 40-34 lead into the final quarter.
After Evanston tied the game at 46-46 on a pair of Josh Irving (6 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) free throws with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left, Nader (32 points, 10 rebounds) buried his second 3-pointer of the game on the ensuing possession.
The Wildkits turned the ball over on the next play. Nader took the ball down the court and kicked it to sophomore Malachi Nix (10 points) for another trey, giving Niles North a 52-46 lead.
When Evanston cut the gap to 3 points with 1:57 left, Nader once again responded with another lefty drive to make it 54-49 and the Wildkits never got closer after that.
Following the loss, Ellis hoped the game sent a message to his team with the postseason starting Tuesday.
“Tonight we had to handle adverse situations,” Ellis said. “Hopefully our kids learned a lesson in how we handle challenges and adversity, because that will be the difference between practice the next day or collecting gear the next day.”
Evanston will play their first Regionals game at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Monday night’s matchup with Glenbrook South and Schaumburg. If the Kits advance to the final round, they could have a chance to face New Trier in Beardsley Gym for the first time in 11 years. The winner of the Evanston Regionals will go to New Trier’s campus for the Sectional round.