Mike Ellis couldn’t have asked for much better defense from Evanston’s basketball team Wednesday night at the Class 4A Waukegan Sectional tournament.
But the ETHS head coach couldn’t do anything to shake the offense out of a deep freeze.
The Wildkits shot a season low 28 percent from the field and couldn’t catch up after falling behind 9-0, bowing to Lake Forest by a 54-47 margin and ending their season with a 20-9 record.
No. 2 seed Lake Forest (28-2) advanced behind 6-foot-8 Evan Boudreaux’s 22 points and 21 rebounds and will face North Suburban Conference rival Stevenson for the sectional championship Friday night.
Evanston, the No. 5 seed, sank just 15-of-53 field goal attempts — including a 3-of-17 showing from 3-point range — and also missed 8 free throws during the comeback bid.
That wasn’t exactly offense with a capital O, and Ellis was the first to admit it.
“We didn’t shoot it very well tonight,” said the ETHS coach. “The ball seemed to get stuck in our hands on offense and we also didn’t value the ball enough on offense. Sometimes against a team with size and length like that (the Scouts started three players who are 6-7 or taller) you can have a tendency to over-dribble, and that was a problem, too.
“I thought the story of the game was our turnovers, though. If we didn’t turn the ball over so much (9 times in the first half, 11 total), it could have been a back and forth fight. But we just couldn’t score, and I didn’t expect that to happen tonight.”
Sophomore Nojel Eastern led the Wildkits with 18 points but only connected on 5-of-18 shots from the floor. Malik Jenkins came off the bench to force several of the Scouts’ 22 turnovers and netted 9 points, and senior Elijah Henry concluded his 3-year varsity career with 8 points and 9 rebounds.
“Lake Forest did a great job, and we did the best we could,” said Eastern. “I couldn’t have asked for a better season, or for better teammates, this year.
“My jump shot wasn’t falling tonight but I continued to try to get into the lane and get to the free throw line. In the third and fourth quarter we pressured them and that helped us out a lot. That trap defense was a great aspect for us getting backing in the game. Maybe we could have tried it earlier, I don’t know.”
Evanston went scoreless for its first 8 possessions before Chris Hamil dropped in a triple with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first quarter. It was an uphill battle from then on for the Kits, who fell behind 25-16 at halftime.
Hamil’s triple from the deep left corner with 4 seconds left in the third quarter pulled ETHS within 35-30, and a drive by Eastern at the 6:38 mark provided a spark at 37-34. But he misfired on a subsequent free throw, and the Scouts eventually pulled away to a double digit lead again.
A layup by senior Henry Woo at the buzzer kept the Kits from their lowest point total of the season. Woo, Henry, Xhavier Hilliard, Tommy Haughey and Alante Massie will graduate this spring.
“The second hardest thing (after cutting prospective varsity players in the preseason) for a coach is saying good-bye to a senior class like this,” said Ellis. “These seniors are one of the most unselfish classes we’ve ever had. They’re in the lockerroom right now telling the younger guys how much they meant to them. We don’t win 20 games, we don’t win the conference, we don’t win the regional without the seniors bringing those young guys along like they did.
“Our guys love challenges and they’ve all come so far. I’ve seen a lot of growth and maturity from every single one in that lockerroom. I thought we really made some strides as a team after Christmas.”