The attention paid to one of the best players in the nation by opposing defenses occasionally finds Nojel Eastern and his Evanston teammates forced to deal with a box-and-1 zone defense.
Lock one player in a box — and another will usually pop up for the Wildkits.
Wednesday night at Beardsley Gym, that player was Malik Jenkins. The junior guard torched New Trier for 15 points — one less than his career best — and the Wildkits used a balanced effort to trip the Trevians by a 58-45 margin at the 4th annual Bob Bost Basketball Classic game at Beardsley Gym.
Now 7-1 overall, coach Mike Ellis’ squad improved to 3-0 in Central Suburban League South division play. New Trier fell to 3-5 and 1-2, respectively.
The visitors actually opened with a triangle-and-2 defensive alignment designed to slow the scoring pace of Eastern and guard Chris Hamil. But Hamil’s early foul difficulty — he picked up two personals in the fourth quarter — caused the Trevians to shift their zone focus to Eastern.
Jenkins came off the bench to stash in 8 points in the second quarter, boosting the Wildkits to a 24-20 advantage. He finished with a game-high 15, and was joined in double figures by Eastern (11 points, 4 assists), Elyjah Williams (10 points, 5 rebounds) and Dylan Mulvihill (10 points, 10 rebounds).
Colin Winchester’s 15 points paced the Trevs, who only shot 36 percent (15-of-41) from the field.
Jenkins’ ability to penetrate into the paint foiled New Trier’s strategy and emphasized Ellis’ point from the beginning of the year, that taking Eastern out of the scoring column won’t necessarily guarantee an ETHS loss.
“When they set out to take Nojel out of the game, a lot of holes open up for his teammates. Malik did a good job of listening on the bench when we talked about what we wanted to do when they went to the box-and-1,” Ellis said.
“I thought penetration was the key for us tonight. They attacked New Trier off the dribble and forced that zone to shift. And we started getting some offensive rebounds, because it’s tough to rebound out of that box-and-1.
“Our balance is definitely the strength of our team. Our guys aren’t worried about who’s scoring or about stats. When we play together like this, I think we’re the best team in the state.”
Evanston’s defense held the losers without a field goal for almost five straight minutes in the third quarter, allowing the hosts to expand the lead to 41-30 by the end of the period. Williams contributed 8 points in that stretch, and Eastern dropped in 8 points in the final period.
“New Trier’s still searching for what defense can win games for them, so they threw a lot at us,” Ellis added. “If you can take Nojel and Chris out of the game, then that is a smart tactic. After all, that’s 30 points a game right there.
“I didn’t feel that we played our best tonight. But we only gave up 40-some points, and we understand that we can count on our defense every night if we just bring it.”