Entering a game against Loyola Academy on Jan. 19, the Evanston Township High School boys basketball team had won six games in a row and looked to make it seven in a row when they took on the Ramblers, which the Wildkits were able to do, beating the Ramblers 46-31.
In that game, the Kits led 27-25 entering the fourth quarter and outscored the Ramblers 19-6 including back-to-back baskets from senior Dylan Mulvihill to open the fourth quarter to help secure the victory. The Kits were led by junior Chris Hamil, who scored a team-high 10 points with Dylan adding eight points. With the win, the Kits improved to 15-2 overall.
From there, the Kits took on Waukegan and prevailed 66-56 on Jan. 22 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. In that game, after being forced to exit briefly because of a twisted knee late in the first quarter, junior Nojel Eastern was able to come back in and give the Kits a big boost. Trailing 19-15 with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Nojel scored eight straight points and 14 of the Kits’ 18 points in the quarter to give them a 33-28 halftime lead. That spurt gave the Kits all the momentum they needed as they extended that lead to double digits with 3 minutes 41 seconds remaining, when Nojel made it 43-32 with an old-fashioned three-point play.
But the Bulldogs did not go down without a fight. After Nojel’s three pointer, the visitors got to within four at 47-43 heading to the fourth quarter. But that was the closest they came as the Kits held the Bulldogs without a field goal until the 1 minute 52 second mark and outscored the Bulldogs 19-13 in the final stanza to allow them to come away with the victory. Nojel led the Kits with 19 points and junior Malik Jenkins added 11 points. With the victory, the Kits improved to 16-2 overall and 6-0 in Central Suburban League South Conference play.
Even though the Kits won the game, head coach Mike Ellis thought his team was capable of playing a lot better. “I thought that might have been one of our poorest performances of the season with the exception of the two games we lost. I just did not think that we had a flow or rhythm,” Coach Ellis explained. “On offense and defense, we are just out there going through the motions, and when you go through the motions like that, you are going to have a lot of breakdowns.” The Coach continued, “The number of free throws that they shot was an indicator of going through the motions. We were just a step late, a step behind, and we resorted to fouling to catch up. They shot 31 free throws, so that is an indicator that they were the aggressor and we were the passive team.”
Despite that, Coach Ellis was pleased with Nojel’s performance. “Nojel did not have his best start to the game, but I think he was huge in making sure that [the Waukegan game] was not a [game] where we were out of sync for the entire 32 minutes,” said the Coach. “He stepped up when we needed him to step up the most. We did not need to save that until the fourth quarter or the final minutes of the game for him to step up, he stepped up in the middle of the second quarter and into the third quarter and that was just as valuable. That kind of allowed us to get a little confidence and have at least a small stretch of rhythm. So it was good to see him playing that aggressively, and he needs to [continue to] do that for us.”
Regarding Nojel’s second-quarter performance, Coach Ellis said, “I thought what was most impressive about [it] was not the skills he was exhibiting, but I think it was him sensing the moment where he felt like, ‘Hey, I have got to take over.’ We see those skills out of him every day in practice, and sometimes he prefers to take a back seat, and I thought that the more impressive thing was that he chose to sit in the front seat and drive us.”
Nojel continued to drive the Kits the very next night as he scored 21 points in a 65-58 victory against Whitney Young in the When Sides Collide Shootout at Glenbard East High School. The Kits committed 24 turnovers in the game but were able to prevail for their ninth straight victory to improve to 17-2 overall. In addition to Nojel’s 21 points, Malik scored 13 points, including 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
With only seven games remaining, Coach Ellis feels the keys to success down the stretch will be taking care of the little things. “We have the talent, we have the players, we have the depth, but it is going to come down to how important are the little things,” said the Coach. “How well do you know your stuff, how willing are you to share the basketball, how willing are you to take charge or get a deflection, and the more the little things are important, the better we are going to play down the stretch.”
The Kits begin the final stretch of the regular season when They travel to Niles West on Jan. 29 followed by a matchup with St. Ignatius the next night as part of the War on the Shore at Loyola.