The Evanston Township High School boys’ basketball team certainly got off to the kind of start they hoped for as they won the season-opening Battle of the Bridge Thanksgiving tournament title.
On Nov. 27, the Wildkits beat Notre Dame 71-64 in the championship game, which avenged a loss to the Dons in last year’s tournament title game. Against Notre Dame, the Kits were led by junior Nojel Eastern, who scored 22 points and was named the MVP of the tournament, while juniors Chris Hamil and Elyjah Williams also added 16 points and 10 points, respectively. With the victory, the Kits improved to 4-0 overall.
Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Kits beat Mt. Carmel on Nov. 23 by a 70-65 score, Taft on Nov. 24 by a score of 71-34, and tournament host DePaul Prep by a 55-32 tally, which set up the matchup with Notre Dame in the tournament title game.
Then the Kits took on Morgan Park on Dec. 5 and lost 71-59 in the Chicago Elite Classic at UIC Pavilion. The Kits turned the ball over 20 times, including four turnovers in their first four possessions, which proved to be costly, as they trailed 35-24 at halftime and 55-39 through three quarters. In the fourth quarter, the Kits outscored the Mustangs 20-16, but that was unfortunately not enough as they suffered their first loss of the season, falling to 4-1 overall. Leading scorers for the Kits were Nojel, who scored 19 points, senior Trevon Marshall and sophomore Dravon Clayborn who each scored 10 points apiece. Senior Dylan Mulvihill chipped in nine points in the loss.
Then on Dec. 8, the Kits got back in the win column as they beat Waukegan 61-44 in the Central Suburban League South Conference opener for both teams. This game marked the final time the Kits would visit Waukegan as conference rivals as the Bulldogs are set to leave the CSL South after this season to join the North Suburban Conference. The teams’ final matchup as conference rivals is set for Jan. 22 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. On Dec. 8, the Kits held a 30-27 lead at the half, but they outscored the Bulldogs 20-10 in the third quarter to take a commanding 50-37 lead and cruised from there. With the victory, the Kits improved to 5-1 overall.
Next up the Kits took on Niles West on Dec. 11 and beat the Wolves, 61-26 in the home opener at Beardsley Gym. In that game, the Kits led 36-10 at halftime and they extended that lead to 44-12 after a Nojel dunk with 3 minutes 45 seconds remaining in the third and led 46-18 heading to the fourth. In the final stanza, junior Malik Jenkins scored five of his eight points in the quarter, helping keep the visitors at bay.
“I thought we played a little more consistent than we have in the past on both ends of the floor,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “I thought our focus was on the defensive end which was exactly what we talked about at the beginning of the game- to focus and worry about the defensive end and let the offense flow from our defense. I thought they did a nice job of coming out and executing that.”
Along with Malik’s eight points, Dylan and Chris each scored 12 to lead the Kits’ offensive attack. Regarding Chris’ performance, Coach Ellis said, “It was good to see Chris bounce back after a poor start. He had a turnover the first possession, then got beat later on after that, and he missed a layup,” the Coach explained. “[But] he came back and regrouped and gathered himself and did a great job coming back in and keeping his composure.”
Regarding Dylan’s performance, Coach Ellis said, “[He] had a great game. We had a size advantage with Dylan. We talked about points in the paint being a key statistic [against Niles West] and it was [as the Kits outscored the Wolves 38-12 in points in the paint].” The Coach continued, “That is a good three-point shooting team, so we knew that our advantage was inside, so we wanted to turn it into more of an inside game, and I thought our guys, with the defense and in combination with that offensive goal, they executed both of those really well.”
The Kits certainly executed well on defense, as they limited the Wolves to seven total field goals and five points each in the first two quarters and only 26 the entire game.
Coach Ellis said, “They were solid. I liked the way they were helping one another. Every time there was a situation where there was help needed, there was always help there [so] it was good to see them pick each other up and do a solid job of defending our basket.”
With the victory, the Kits improved to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in CSL South play. When asked how he felt the season is going so far, the Coach said, “So far we have had some lessons to learn, and it is good to see that our guys are taking it to heart. I like the way that they are shaping up as a team. They care about the right things, they care about one another. It is great to see a bunch of guys that want to do what is right for the guy next to them, so in that aspect, I think that will only accelerate our growth. It is a good culture right now.”
Next up, the Kits were set to take on archrival New Trier on Dec. 16, the day this paper went to press, and then they participate in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic tournament beginning on Dec. 19 at Fairdale High School in Kentucky.