Twenty-four hours after falling short in an effort to close out one potential victory, Evanston’s basketball team finally found a way Saturday.
Defense delivered a 49-39 win over visiting Loyola Academy at Beardsley Gym as the Wildkits (7-3) limited the Ramblers to just three field goals in the second half.
Coach Mike Ellis’ squad converted 7-of-10 free throw attempts to keep Loyola at bay in the final quarter on a night where both teams only managed to score in spurts.
“We were in a better position tonight, because we couldn’t get to the free throw line at Maine South,” said Ellis in reference to Friday night’s loss. “It helped to get to the free throw line and cash in on the lessons we learned the night before. To turn things around like this and win against a great program like Loyola, it’s really a big win for our guys.
“We only gave up 3 baskets in the second half against a team that can shoot the lights out. That’s pretty solid — no, that’s tremendous defense. I couldn’t be happier with the way they played tonight.”
Evanston spotted Loyola a 7-0 lead, then rattled off 15 unanswered points as guard Chris Hamil sparked the early surge with 8 points in the period. Hamil finished with a team-high 9 points, backed up by Nojel Eastern with 7 and Elijah Williams, Elijah Henry and Jerome Bynum with 6 points apiece.
“I think the way we closed out that first quarter was the key for us,” Ellis added. “They got down and they just knew they were better than that. I thought they did a nice job of settling down after that.”
Evanston outscored Loyola 11-4 in the third stanza after leading 29-24 at halftime. The Ramblers (5-4) went more than 7 minutes without a bucket before Rick Cenar finally connected on a 3-point shot.
The Ramblers did cut a 14 point deficit down to 44-39 with 60 seconds remaining on a pair of free throws by Peter Poggioli. Eastern answered with a free throw at the other end, and when he missed the second try, Williams hustled to grab the offensive rebound and laid it back in to push the lead back to 8 points. Loyola never scored again and shot just 36 percent (12-of-33) on the night.
“We’re still not as sharp as we could be mentally. We still have some breakdowns,” Ellis said. “And we still don’t play hard all the time, either. But I’m pleased with the progress we’re making as a team.”