After being handed a number two seed and playing the Regional round in Beardsley Gym, there was plenty of reason to believe that Evanston could move on to the Sectionals. In order to make their hoop dreams come true, though, the Wildkits had to take care of business in their first playoff game in the Regionals against Schaumburg, a number 15 seed.
Many fans from other schools questioned why the Kits, with only an 18-10 record, were given such a high seed. The overall feeling, however, was that while Evanston was inconsistent, it had massive potential. After their first Regional game, though, it seems as if the critics were proven right.
Evanston senior Garrett Jones sat alone on the baseline in Beardsley Gymnasium after Schaumburg upset the Wildkits, 58-51, in the Class 4A Evanston Regional semifinals.
The four-year varsity guard – whose career included a third-place state finish as a freshman, a 50-point game as a junior and two all-conference selections – could not help but express the disappointment of ending his Wildkits’ career.
“It wasn’t the coach’s fault, it wasn’t the assistant coaches’ faults, it wasn’t the managers’ fault – it was us. We just didn’t come out tonight. We let them throw the first punch and we never threw a punch back. They hit us with a 9-2 lead in the first few minutes of the game, and we never responded back.”
Playing for coach Mike Ellis in his first season at Evanston this year, Jones also thinks good things are just getting started with the program.
“Evanston means so much to me,” Jones said. “All my siblings went here and played basketball. I learned a lot from them. I tried to do as much as I can to carry their legacy and my own. I wish it could have gone further than it did tonight.
“I learned a lot through my four years of basketball, especially my freshman year, coming in with a great team that went downstate. I wanted that to carry over this year and give Coach Ellis something to look forward to next year, hopefully having him downstate in Peoria, where he came from. But we just didn’t execute the plan.”
The Wildkits only led the Schaumburg Saxons to open the game, 2-0, but quickly fell into a 10-2 hole. The Saxons were led by senior guard Javon McDonald (16 points), who scored six points in the third quarter to help extend a 24-17 halftime lead to 39-29 to start the final quarter.
Jones, who had 18 points overall, converted a pair of free throws with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Schaumburg lead to 32-29, but the Saxons closed the quarter on a 7-0 run.
Schaumburg sank 10 of 13 free throws in the final quarter to help secure the win and shot 21 of 28 at the line for the game.
Coach Ellis did not think anyone was looking past the Saxons for a potential match-up with rival and No. 7 seed New Trier. According to the Coach, the Wildkits just did not execute like he had hoped.
“I never heard one kid mention New Trier all week long,” Coach Ellis said. “I don’t think it was a matter of looking ahead to Friday. This time of year if you get caught looking ahead, you’re turning in your gear the next day. The practices were good this week, but (Schaumburg’s) guard play was the difference in the game. They hurt us on some slip screens and a couple backdoors. We needed to do a better job of getting the ball down low and spreading the floor for some open shots.”
Evanston senior center James Farr, who has some Division I scholarship offers, scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and also grabbed eight rebounds. Senior Clarke Rosenberg scored six points to go with six boards, and senior Mike Rice added five. Ryan Williams and Andrew Gillett rounded out the senior class, which Ellis coached for only one season.
“It’s tough,” Coach Ellis said. “You want to see those guys that have been varsity players go out on a winning note. But the only team that’s going to do that is the first- and third-place team. Obviously tonight we didn’t play our best and you’ve just got to tip your hat to the way Schaumburg played.”
“It’s a sad feeling that everything came to an end this quickly,” Jones said. “Knowing the amount of work we put in throughout the whole season really hurts. We felt like we could have gone way further than we did tonight. We just didn’t execute tonight.