The Evanston Township High School boys basketball team entered the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament with a two-game losing streak after falling to Maine South and Loyola on Dec. 20 and 21. Fortunately, the Wildkits were able to bounce back and finished in third place after winning 3 of the 4 games in the tournament.
In the first round on Dec. 26, the Kits beat Washington 60-54. Dante Henley scored 14 points to lead the Kits. The Kits led 29-26 at the half, and the 7 points in the third quarter by Henley helped keep Washington at bay allowing the Kits to come away with their eighth victory of the season.
On Dec. 27 the Kits beat Mt. Carmel 60-55 in overtime to avenge a loss to the Caravan in the season-opener. Later on that day, the Kits took on defending tournament champion Lanphier, but lost by a score of 63-47. CJ Singletary’s 13 points kept the Kits in the game, but 21 turnovers proved costly as the Kits fell to 9-4 overall, which set up a matchup against Rockford Boylan in the game for third place.
The Kits beat Boylan 62-42 on Dec. 28 to take third place in the tournament. Will Jones led the Kits with 13 points in the victory, which bumped up the Kits’ record to 10-4 overall. “I thought it was one of our better games in terms of team play,” said Head Coach Mike Ellis. “We played very unselfishly on both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively.” He added, “Defensively we did a great job of helping each other out and getting through screens and rotating. Offensively it was one of our best-played games of the season.”
Indeed. Of the 24 baskets the Kits scored, 20 of them came with assists, which made Ellis a happy coach. “I think that has only happened one or two other times in my coaching career. When you have 20 of your 24 baskets set up by teammates with passing, that right there shows they are looking unselfishly to get our best shot.”
Regarding Jones’ / performance against Boylan, Coach Ellis said, “Will is a guy that we count on to lead us. I think that was one of his better games of the season. He did not really force much and he was very efficient and productive with his play.”
In addition to his solid offensive performance, Jones drew the assignment of guarding Boylan’s senior guard and UW-Milwaukee-bound Brock Stull, and held him to 13 points, which pleased Ellis. “That is a player that can hurt us and Will stepped up,” said the Coach. “He did a great job defensively on him and offensively Will was very productive for us.”
Regarding his team’s overall performance in the tournament, Coach Ellis said, “I thought it went well. We had a chance to find out our best way of executing, and what gives us the greatest amount of success.” He added, “I think our kids learned that we have to attack teams through five-on-five play and give each other a shot to set each other up for a high-percentage shot.
“Defensively, there was a stretch of games before the winter break where we kind of lost our intensity and focus on defense. I thought this tournament allowed us to gain that back.”
Next up, the Kits take on St. Charles East on Saturday night at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. From there, they take on Central Suburban League Conference foe Waukegan on Jan. 10.
“We lost a thriller there on a buzzer beater last year,” said Ellis of St. Charles East. “They are very good and well coached. They will pressure us with defense, trapping and rotating. They will try to trap us with a run-and-jump defense.” The coach added, “We are going to take care of the basketball, not turn it over, and it is another chance to see if our defense can continue to improve like it has these last four games.”