The Chicago Elite Classic shootout event held Saturday at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion offered Evanston’s basketball team a chance to make an early season statement against a team that’s used to advancing to the Final Four in the state tournament series.
But the Wildkits showed that they’re not quite ready for prime time yet.
Chicago Public League power Morgan Park dominated the Kits at both ends of the court and ran away with a 71-59 victory, snapping Evanston’s four-game season-opening winning string in the process.
The Mustangs, who were third in the state in Class 3A last year after winning back-to-back state crowns in 2013 and 2014, rolled to a 35-24 halftime lead and stretched the advantage to 55-39 after three periods. The Wildkits could get no closer than 10 points despite finally getting their act together in the fourth quarter.
ETHS (4-1) was led by Nojel Eastern’s 19 points, along with 10 points apiece by Trevon Marshall and sophomore Dravon Clayborn. Dylan Mulvihill added 9 points and 8 rebounds for the losers, who committed 20 turnovers against Morgan Park’s constant pressure.
Morgan Park (2-0) placed four players in double figures, led by Jamal Burton with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 steals.
“We didn’t come out with all that we have, we didn’t play Evanston basketball,” Eastern admitted. “They attacked us, and we didn’t attack them back. The small things always matter in a game, and we didn’t execute the small things tonight.”
“I thought we came out a little flat,” added Marshall. “We were walking down the court, not sprinting down the court like they were. It was a tough loss because it wasn’t about them — it was about us. If we executed the game plan the coaches gave us, we’d have been in a much better position. When the other team gets so many easy buckets, it’s hard to come back from that.”
Evanston overcame four turnovers on its first four possessions to take the lead at 8-6 when Eastern went the length of the court with a rebound to make it 8-6. That was Evanston’s last lead of the evening.
“We weren’t aggressive enough at first, but I don’t think we came out too flat,” said ETHS head coach Mike Ellis. “We just didn’t make enough plays. We had too many turnovers and too many 50-50 balls that Morgan Park got. When the ball was up in the air or loose on the floor, they wanted it more than we did. They came away with the majority of those plays.
“I thought Dylan (Mulvihill) played a solid game for us tonight, and Tre (Marshall) helped stabilize the game early on. But we have to do the little things better to win. We needed to stick to our technique better, and I thought there was too much free-lancing going on tonight. Morgan Park was more disciplined than we were.”
The Wildkits will get opportunities to measure themselves in the future against two other city powers, Whitney Young (Jan. 23 at Glenbard East) and Simeon (Feb. 20 at Lyons Township) in other shootouts. But they knew they missed out on an opportunity to make a good impression on Saturday.
“We didn’t play under control enough in the first half tonight, and that led to charges and turnovers and that’s what got us in a hole,” Mulvihill summed up. “This was an opportunity for us to show what we can do. Instead, it shows that we have a lot of work to do.”