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After falling to Oak Park-River Forest on Jan. 10, the Evanston Township High School boys’ basketball team looked to bounce back against Central Suburban League South Conference foe Niles West on Jan. 16.
The Wildkits did just that, beating the Wolves 74-51 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. The Kits utilized a 49-28 rebounding advantage, which included 21 offensive rebounds, with six of those resulting in put-backs in the first half as the Kits built a 42-24 lead at the half. From there, they cruised to victory.
The Kits had 13 different players score in the game including senior Xhavier Hilliard, who scored 12 points along with three assists and two steals. Sophomore Nojel Eastern scored 11 points and added eight rebounds and three steals. Sophomore Elyjah Williams scored nine points, and junior Dylan Mulvihill added eight points to lead the Kits attack. With the win, the Kits improved to 11-6 overall and 4-1 in CSL South play.
Next up, the Kits took on archrival New Trier on Jan. 23 as part of the third annual Bob Bost Classic at Beardsley Gym. The Kits beat the Trevians for the second time this season, 54-41. Eastern led the Kits in scoring with 14 points, including a thunderous dunk off a steal that brought the crowd to its feet in the third quarter. That dunk broke a 27-27 tie as the Kits outscored the Trevians 21-5 in the quarter and rolled to victory from there.
“We played a solid game for all four quarters,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “There were some times in the first quarter where we had some unforced turnovers. But other than that, we competed hard against a really good and hot New Trier team. They are very difficult to guard, they have players that can shoot the three, and can score inside and out. So it took a team effort and that is what we put forward.” The Coach added, “We won as a team and that is pleasing to see.”
On Jan. 24 the Kits took on Riverside-Brookfield, who only had one loss coming into the contest, as part of a shootout at Glenbard East, and prevailed 66-63. In a tightly contested matchup, Riverside-Brookfield got to within one at 64-63 with six seconds remaining after making a pair of free throws. But Eastern extended the Kits’ lead to 66-63 after answering with a pair of free throws of his own. Riverside-Brookfield had a chance to tie, but on the ensuing possession missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, allowing the Kits to escape with the victory.
“It was good for us because it showed that we have made growth since the beginning of the season,” said Coach Ellis. “We went to a shootout similar to that earlier in the year against Crete-Monee and lost in overtime.” He added, “This time around, with being challenged with a tough weekend and playing New Trier, we were both sitting at 4-1 and at the top of our conference, and winning that game, then playing again the next night against the No. 9 ranked team in the state and only being beat once, and playing solid [in that game] and coming away with a win there, really showed our team has made some growth and progress the past few months.”
Eastern led the Kits for the second straight night, scoring a career-high 32 points, along with six rebounds and five assists. Senior Elijah Henry also chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Regarding Eastern’s performance, Coach Ellis said, “Nojel showed up with a purpose and a focus and it was good to see him play as well as he did. I thought he did a great job of understanding the moments throughout the game.” The Coach added, “He scored in a variety of ways. When he had a player matched up against him that was undersized, he took him down to the low post and when they switched and put a taller defender on him, he was able to take him to the outside and make some plays on the perimeter.”
After the Riverside-Brookfield game, the Kits’ overall record stood at 13-6 overall with seven games remaining in the regular season and Ellis is pleased with how his team has responded to each of the challenges they have faced so far this season. “There have been a lot of teachable moments throughout the season. They are doing a great job of learning from those and that is what is most pleasing right now is going forward, the lessons we have learned, we are taking those and applying those to the next challenge.”
In order for the Kits to succeed down the stretch and in the playoffs, Coach Ellis said, “We just have to play our style, our brand and continue to learn from our mistakes. By no means are we done fixing our mistakes. We are still going to make some but we are just trying to minimize those mistakes.” The Coach added, “But we are starting to figure out that the team that makes the fewest mistakes earns the victory. So instead of trying to do too much, I think we are just trying to play within ourselves, [and] understand that every night out has a different way to win.”
Next up, the Kits pay a visit to Glenbrook South on Jan. 29. Regarding Glenbrook South, the Coach said, “[They are] a team that can get hot at home. They are very versatile outside and inside, they have strong shooters on the wings, and they are a strong, physical team.” He added, “We have to take care of the basketball, [and] make sure we get quality possessions. We have the talent to score inside or outside and we can score with any one of the five guys we have on the floor. We just have to make sure we take care of the basketball and get quality shots, and continue to rely on our defense.”
That matchup is followed by a tilt with Maine South on Feb. 5. From there, they take on Fremd on Feb. 7 as part of the War on the Shore tournament at Loyola Academy.