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Evanston’s last basketball trip to Waukegan’s Dog Pound Tuesday night almost ended up biting the Wildkits.
But the upset-minded Bulldogs, after staying close for the first half, couldn’t keep up with the Kits in the Central Suburban League South division opener for both teams — and the finale of a rivalry that dates back to 1933 when Waukegan joined the Suburban League.
Evanston pulled away for a 61-44 victory as junior Nojel Eastern showed the way with a stat line that included 22 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.
Waukegan (4-4 overall) is leaving the CSL South after the 2015-16 school year to join the North Suburban Conference and stayed within 30-27 over the first two periods Tuesday. But, after Eastern notched 19 of his points in the first half, the visitors began to click as a team in the second half and wound up outscoring the losers 20-10 in the third quarter when 5 different players reached the scoring column.
Sophomore guard Dravon Clayborn, who earned more minutes on the court with fellow guards Jerome Bynum and Malik Jenkins unable to make the trip due to illness, fired in 8 points in the 3rd quarter as Evanston (5-1) extended the lead to 50-37 and never looked back.
“We talked about the history between Waukegan and Evanston before the game and about how this was our last visit to play them in the CSL,” said Evanston coach Mike Ellis. “Tonight was a historic occasion and we should’ve been more excited to get back out on the floor and show that we’re better than we showed Saturday (in a loss to Morgan Park).
“We realized that it was not our best effort in the first half, and we committed to playing 16 minutes of better basketball in the second half. We’ve gotta stop picking and choosing when we want to play hard, that’s the bottom line. I don’t think we were as dialed in defensively in the first half as much as we were in the second half. When we put most of our stock in our defense, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Clayborn’s 8 points combined with 4 from Dylan Mulvihill and a key 3-point shot by Chris Hamil when the visitors were still nursing a slim 2-point advantage. Clayborn connected on all 3 of his field goal attempts in the quarter, and the sophomore guard has built more and more trust from the coaching staff for his consistent play every week to date.
“He’s right there with the older guys,” Ellis pointed out. “Every time he’s out on the floor it’s been a learning experience for him. He’s strong on the ball defensively and he’s just a gutsy, gritty type of player for us.”
Hamil finished with 10 points as the only other player in double figures for the winners, who shot 9-of-23 from 3-point range as a team. The hosts, who were led by Carson Newsome with 15 points, only connected on 30 percent (16-of-54) of their shots on their home court.