Senior Night couldn’t have turned out any better for Evanston’s basketball team.
Led by senior post player Elijah Henry’s season-high 23 points, the Wildkits ran away from Waukegan 80-53 and clinched at least a share of the Central Suburban League South division championship Friday night at Beardsley Gym.
Evanston improved to 16-7 overall and 8-1 in league play with one game remaining at Niles West. The Wildkits hold a one-game edge over Maine South and also nailed down a berth in the CSL Showcase Showdown game matching the two division winners. Deerfield will play ETHS at Beardsley Gym on Wednesday, Feb. 23 in the conference crossover event.
Joined in the starting lineup by classmates Tommy Haughey, Xhavier Hilliard, Henry Woo and Alante Massie, Henry poured in 15 points in the first quarter. He finished with an 11-of-12 shooting log from the floor while also contributing a team-high 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots, all in just 21 minutes of court time.
Woo, in his first varsity start, sank a pair of 3-point baskets in the first period that helped spur the hosts to a 21-12. They never looked back, building quarter leads of 46-25 and 57-36 while routing the Bulldogs for the second time this season.
Dylan Mulvihill added 10 points, Nojel Eastern tallied 9 and Massie netted 8 as the Kits celebrated their first conference crown since head coach Mike Ellis’ first season back in 2010-11.
“That first one was definitely a challenge even though we had three Division I players,” Ellis recalled. “I didn’t get hired until October and we really had to learn on the fly and build relationships that way, too. Now things are more stable and I’ve got both feet on the ground. Going into games now we know what to do, and we already have those relationships in place that we’ve worked so hard to build.
“These guys have done a nice job of pursuing that (conference) title. I’m glad to be able to see that hard work and effort pay off for them. We’re all about one another with this group, not about yourself. It’s a compliment to these players and their parents. They’re high quality kids, and that comes from their homes.”
Waukegan couldn’t control Henry underneath and he set the tone and helped settle any early case of nerves for the seniors who aren’t used to playing much.
“I really though Elijah put the other seniors on his back tonight,” Ellis pointed out. “Once they saw him making plays like that, it gave the others more confidence.”
Road games at St. Charles East (Tuesday) and next Friday at Niles West and the crossover championship game will provide more opportunities for the Kits to build momentum for a deep postseason run.
“Momentum was definitely part of our runs to the state finals when I coached at Peoria Richwoods,” Ellis said of his previous coaching stop. “But you don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse, and for us the horse is that we have momentum because of the habits we have as a team, doing things the right way and making the commitment we’ve made. I think we’ve gotten better as a team since Christmas.We had a solid January, and January is what we call the moving month, where you either get better or get worse as a team. It really comes down to the trust factor. We’re a great team when we all play together.”