Prior to making a trip to Kentucky to participate in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic tournament, the Evanston Township High School boys basketball team looked to build some momentum with a strong showing against their longtime rivals.
The Wildkits did just that, beating archrival New Trier 58-45 on Dec. 16 as part of the fourth annual Bob Bost Basketball Classic at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. Junior Malik Jenkins led the Kits with 15 points, including eight in the second quarter, as they built a 24-20 halftime lead. In the third, the Kits extended their lead thanks to a solid effort on defense, limiting the visitors to 10 points to take a 41-30 lead into the final stanza. Then in the fourth, the Kits outscored the Trevians 17-15 for the victory, which improved their record to 7-1 overall and 3-0 in Central Suburban League South Conference play.
From there, the Kits traveled to Fairdale High School in Kentucky, site of the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic tournament. On Dec. 19 in their opening game, the Kits beat Miami Senior (Fla.) 77-75 in overtime. In that game, the Kits rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime as Malik came up big once again, scoring a career-high 22 points including the game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. He also hit another big three-pointer with 1 minute 36 seconds remaining in overtime to help secure the victory.
“Malik had a great week down there. All four games Malik was a contributor on both ends of the floor. His decision-making has really improved, and his shot selection is part of the reason he is averaging more points per game and shooting a higher percentage,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “He is also letting the game come to him, and he has a lot of talent, so we are counting on Malik.”
After the Miami Senior game, the Kits fell to Brentwood Academy (Tenn.) on Dec. 21 60-49 in the quarterfinal round. In that game, the Kits turned the ball over a season-high 24 times, which proved costly despite a 16-point effort from junior Nojel Eastern. With the loss, the Kits fell to 8-2 overall.
But they bounced back the next day and easily beat Fern Creek (Ky.) 72-45. Junior Elyjah Williams led the team with 13 points and nine rebounds, and Malik added 10 points. The victory put the Kits in the fifth-place game against Lexington Dunbar (Ky.) on Dec. 23. In that game, the Kits finished the tournament on a strong note, winning 73-72 thanks to a free throw by senior Trevon Marshall with four seconds remaining in regulation time. Trevon’s free throw put the Kits ahead by one. Dunbar had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but the attempt was no good, allowing the Kits to escape with the victory.
“That was a back-and-forth game,” said Coach Ellis. “I thought it was a great experience for our guys to battle through some adversity, and there were a lot of situations where we can learn from [including] how to play with the lead, how to play down one or two baskets. So it was basically [a] 32-minute, possession-by-possession, grind-it-out game.”
Against Dunbar, junior Jerome Bynum paced the Kits with 15 points, junior Chris Hamil poured in 11 and Nojel, who was named to the all-tournament team, scored 11 and grabbed seven rebounds. In beating Dunbar, the Kits finished in fifth place in the tournament by winning three of their four games and improved their record to 10-2 overall.
“It was good for our guys. We played solidly for three-and-a-half games,” said the Coach of his team’s performance in the tournament. “It is just unfortunate that we had Brentwood Academy down eight at halftime [as the Kits were unable to hold onto that lead] and they were the eventual champions.” The Coach continued, “So in that second half against Brentwood, had we played a little stronger with the basketball, a little smarter, we would like to think we would have had a shot at coming away with the title.”
When asked what they took away from this tournament, Coach Ellis said his team will have to take better care of the basketball in order to be successful the rest of the season. “I think that was the part of the games where we found ourselves in a hole, just not getting quality shots,” the Coach explained. “We have a lot of talent on offense, we have multiple scorers, but obviously when you turn the basketball over, not one guy can score. So in order to utilize our strength, which is our balance, we have to get shots off [and] we cannot turn the basketball over.”
Next up, the Kits take on Highland Park on Jan. 5 in the CSL Crossover game. From there, they visit Glenbrook South on Jan. 8, followed by a matchup with Maine South on Jan. 14 at Beardsley Gym.
“We know that is going to be a tough game,” said Coach Ellis about Highland Park. “They have a lot of shooters we will have to defend. They do a great job of spreading the floor, they are well-coached, and they play a 1-2-2 ball press [defense]. So we will have to make good decisions, find the right guy and the open man and knock in shots when we can.”