Down by 8 points with 2 minutes and 12 seconds remaining Saturday night, Evanston’s basketball team came close to pulling off a miraculous comeback against Oak Park-River Forest.
But the Huskies didn’t miss enough free throws.
OPRF survived 6 missed free throws in the final period when Connor Fuller sank a pair at the line with 2 seconds remaining to secure a 58-54 non-conference triumph over the Wildkits.
Coach Mike Ellis’ young squad took a step back on defense, allowing the visitors to shoot 67 percent from the floor (22-of-33) after previously limiting 10 opponents to 50 points or less this season. ETHS slipped to 10-6 on the year while OPRF improved to 8-6.
The Huskies penetrated the paint at will and also got to the free throw line 25 times, connecting on 10. The Wildkits turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 15 times.
Nojel Eastern led Evanston’s comeback attempt with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Elijah Henry was unstoppable underneath early and finished with 15 points and 7 boards, while Jerome Bynum added 12 points.
Alan Griffin (16 points), Fuller (14) and Breshawn Wilkerson (13) reached double figures for the Huskies.
“When you give up layup after layup after layup like we did tonight, you’re going to lose,” Ellis said. “We didn’t make the commitment tonight to getting stops and that really cost us. You can’t overcome poor defense like that against a good team.
“I don’t know of one player on our team who played well defensively. We all took turns sharing in the breakdowns, and Oak Park was as efficient as they could be. They had the ball in the paint all night long.”
The Wildkits, who led 30-27 at halftime, fell behind 41-37 after three periods and faced what looked like a hill that was too big to climb trailing 51-43 after a Griffin layup.
But misfires at the free throw line kept the hosts in the game, and OPRF’s Brendan Toye fouled Eastern beyond the 3-point stripe with 4 seconds remaining and the Huskies leading 56-52.
Eastern sank the first two tries and purposely missed the third as Evanston hoped for an offensive rebound. But Fuller grabbed the short attempt and converted the game-winning points at the other end.