The Evanston Township High School boys’ basketball team took on Central Suburban League South Conference foe Maine South on Dec. 19 in a rematch of last season’s Sectional semifinal matchup in which the Hawks ended the Wildkits’ season.
So the Kits hoped to get revenge on the Hawks, but unfortunately they were unable to do so, as they fell to the Hawks once again, 56-47. Sophomore guard Nojel Eastern led the Kits with 25 points along with four rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. The Kits led 32-27 with approximately two minutes remaining in the third quarter, but the Hawks used a 9-2 run to help them capture the lead at the end of the third and would not look back, as they held off the Kits in the fourth quarter to capture the victory. With the loss, the Kits’ record fell to 6-3 overall and 2-1 in CSL South Conference play.
After their loss to Maine South, the good news for the Kits was that they did not have to wait long to try to get back in the win column, as they took on Loyola Academy the next night at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. The Kits beat the Ramblers 49-39.
After his team fell behind 7-1 with 5:40 left in the first quarter, head coach Mike Ellis called timeout to talk things over. The Kits responded in a big way. On the ensuing possession, sophomore guard Chris Hamil’s three pointer, the first of his team-high nine points, ignited the offense en route to a 14-0 run to give the Kits a 15-7 lead heading into the second quarter.
“They know they are better than that and I thought that was the key to the game and closing out the first quarter being down 7-1 and then ending up winning that quarter 15-7,” said Coach Ellis.”When you are down 7-1, and you win that quarter by eight points, that was a big turnaround in the game.” He added, “They came out and did a nice job of settling down after they gave up the lead. They just knew they were better than that.”
In the second quarter, the Ramblers outscored the Kits 17-14 to make it a 29-24 Kits lead at the half. But in the third quarter, the Kits extended the lead to 40-25 with 1:09 left when junior forward Dylan Mulvihill rebounded and put back sophomore guard Malik Jenkins’ free throw miss en route to outscoring the Ramblers 11-4 in the quarter. Loyola then hit a three pointer with 50 seconds left to make it 40-28 after three quarters.
From there, Loyola made it interesting: 44-39 with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Kits were able to hold them off, as sophomore forward Elyjah Williams rebounded and put back an Eastern free throw attempt, after Eastern made the first attempt, making it 47-39 with 50 seconds remaining. Junior guard Micquel Roseman added two free throws in the final seconds to make the final score 49-39. With the victory, the Kits improved to 7-3 overall.
“It was big [being able to bounce back and beat Loyola],” said Ellis. “Maine South is a team that has given us trouble in the past, and Loyola is a team that has given us trouble in the past.” He added, “We were not able to get one against Maine South, but to turn around and get one against Loyola, which is a great program, [and] coached by a great coach, it is a big win for our guys.”
Regarding his team’s ability to close out the game after Loyola was within five points late in the game, Coach Ellis said, “They hit some shots. Elyjah Williams had a big rebound and put back off of a free throw.” The Coach added, “It helped that we were able to get to the free throw line and that was something that hurt us [against Maine South], so we turned that lesson around and cashed in for ourselves. So I thought our guys learned a lesson from that.”
In addition to Hamil’s team-high 9 points, Eastern added 7 points, with Williams, senior forward Elijah Henry and sophomore guard Jerome Bynum chipping in 6 points each.
Coach Ellis said of Hamil’s performance, “Chris came in and from the start shot it confidently, knocked in a couple big three’s. He is a guy that has a lot of skills. We talked about in our locker room how versatile we are, and Chris is one of those versatile players. He can play two or three positions.”
The Coach added, “We have two or three guys that can play two or three positions so we have to make sure we are using that to our advantage by making sure we are ready to play. When we have guys not ready to play, we lose that advantage being versatile.”
Next up, the Kits hope to keep maximizing that versatility when they participate in the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament, Dec. 29-31. Of that tournament, Coach Ellis said, “It is going to be tough [as] they are all good teams. It is a chance for us to get out of the area for a little bit and focus on who we are and what we are about.”