Evanston’s tendency to start slow finally caught up with the Wildkits Saturday night at the “War On The Shore” basketball shootout hosted by Loyola Academy.
The Kits fell behind Benet Academy by 25 points in the first half, rallied to within four points twice in the final period, and eventually suffered a 71-58 defeat in the second game of a high school tripleheader in Wilmette.
Senior Will Jones fueled Evanston’s second half comeback with a game-high 23 points, but the losers couldn’t overcome some defensive lapses and 22 percent (6-of-27) shooting from the floor in the first half while falling to 16-6 on the season.
Evanston had no answers for Benet’s 6-foot-9 Sean O’Mara, who finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocked shots and 6 assists. As solid as the Xavier University recruit was, however, Evanston coach Mike Ellis couldn’t understand why the double-team tactics his team employed didn’t translate from practice to the game.
“We worked on those double teams against O’Mara all week, and then he comes out and drops a dime (assists) to guys cutting open to the basket against us,” Ellis said. “We didn’t carry over what we worked on in practice. They made shots in the first half (14-of-22) and we made shots in the second half (15-of-29), so that balanced out. I thought we got beat mentally tonight.
“We shouldn’t have had to talk about stepping up on defense at halftime. There’s no comfort in asking people to do something for a second time. All we really did tonight is make shots. We weren’t focused enough on defense.”
Benet (13-6 overall) built a 22-7 lead after the first quarter and stretched that advantage to 43-18 early in the third quarter on a layup by O’Mara. But the Redwings have surrendered big leads on more than one occasion this season, and once ETHS started to score, the Kits were able to amp up the defensive pressure.
Evanston forced nine turnovers in the second half and clawed back behind Jones, who only scored three points in the first half, and reserve Marcus Johnson. Johnson tossed in three 3-point baskets in the third quarter and Jones dropped in 11 points to bring ETHS within striking distance, trailing only 52-43 entering the final period.
A 3-point shot from the corner by Jones and a rebound shot by Nibra White twice closed that gap to just four points, at 54-50 and 56-52. But Evanston netted only six points in the last four minutes and Benet countered by sinking 9-of-11 free throw attempts during that same stretch.
Elijah Henry contributed 7 points and 2 rebounds for Evanston.