The defense delivered again for Evanston’s basketball team Tuesday night.
For the 15th time this season — all of them victories — the Wildkits held an opponent under 50 points. Evanston advanced to the championship game of the Class 4A Evanston Regional tournament after stifling Loyola Academy 51-36 and improving to 19-8 on the year.
Evanston will meet Maine South, a 47-28 winner over Glenbrook North in the other semifinal, in the title game at 7 p.m. Friday at Beardsley Gym.
“We met a couple of our (defensive) goals tonight,” said Evanston coach Mike Ellis. “We wanted to hold them to 36 points as a team, and we wanted to hold their two guards (Mike Mangan and Brandon Danowski) under 25 points, and they only got 18. On most of their possessions, we only gave them one shot.
“We wanted to give up 9 points a quarter, and that’s not an easy thing to do against a team with skilled guards like Loyola. We really put a priority on our 3-point defense and, for the most part, we were solid tonight.”
Loyola (17-13) connected on just 4-of-14 field goal attempts from 3-point range and shot 32 percent (12-of-37) overall. Nojel Eastern scored a game-high 16 points for Evanston and also grabbed 8 rebounds to go with 8 points and 6 rebounds off the bench from Dylan Mulvihill.
But it was senior Xhavier Hilliard who made the biggest difference for the Wildkits. He contributed 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals and played lockdown defense on Mangan (15 points) in the second half.
Mangan netted 11 points in the first half, then only got off 5 shots at the basket in the entire second half against Hilliard’s physical man-to-man defense.
“Xhavier made plays on offense and he made plays on defense tonight, and that’s what we expect from seniors at this point in the season,” Ellis pointed out. “We switched up on Mangan more in the first half. Those two kids are both really good guards who’ll test your defensive integrity.
“Xhavier got results for us tonight and so did Dylan. You don’t have to be flashy — you just have to get results. Defensive field goal percentage is a big indicator of how well you’re playing defense. I’ve had teams (at Peoria Richwoods) in the past that have held teams to 38 percent. Right now we’re at 43 percent and that’s OK for a high school team. There’s been a learning curve for this team, not because we’re young, but because of our flexible lineups. A lot of times there are different teammates on your left side and on your right side than there were 2 possessions before, and it’s a matter of building trust with everyone.”
Evanston eased to a 24-17 halftime lead and never led by fewer than 6 points in the second half. Now, the 5th seeded Wildkits will get a rematch with No. 3 Maine South after splitting a pair of games with the Hawks during the regular season.
“We’ll definitely have to be at our peak to match the focus Maine South will bring to the game,” Ellis said. “Maine South is a smart team, and we’ll have to play smarter to win. The past is the past. Whoever executes their stuff better and can impose their style of play will win it.”