After beating Niles West in the IHSA Class 4A Niles West Regional semifinals, the Evanston Township High School boys’ basketball team took on Deerfield in the Regional final on March 3.
In that game, the Wildkits captured the Regional title with a 59-42 victory over their Central Suburban League Conference rivals. Late in the first quarter of that game, with the score tied at 11, senior forward Tyler Battle stole the ball and got it to senior guard Nojel Eastern, who dunked it at the buzzer to give the Kits a 13-11 lead. From there, after a miscue by Nojel early in the second quarter, Deerfield’s student section began chanting “over-rated” to which Nojel [coincidentally or not] responded with three straight baskets to give the Kits a 19-11 lead.
When asked if those chants affected the Kits’ play after that, Nojel responded, “They did not affect us at all. We get used to that playing national teams and national players, so we get used to that type of environment.”
Head coach Mike Ellis added, “I do not know. It is hard to say. You would like to think that he [was] just locked in between the lines.”
The Kits certainly were locked in from that point on as they extended the lead to 24-15 with one minute left in the half, when senior guard Chris Hamil connected on a three-pointer. Then early in the third quarter, Chris hit two more three-pointers to extend the lead to 30-15 with 5 minutes 36 seconds remaining, and the Kits would lead 40-25 heading to the fourth quarter.
On their first possession of the fourth, Deerfield nailed a three to make it a 40-28 game with 7 minutes 10 seconds left. But fortunately, the Kits went on a 10-0 run over the next several minutes capped off by an Elyjah Williams’ dunk with 4 minutes 40 seconds remaining to make it a 50-28 game. That all but sealed the victory, as the Kits closed out the 59-42 victory from there.
“The defense was definitely the difference. When we focused on the offensive end, it was kind of an even game, trading baskets, especially the early part of the game,” explained Coach Ellis. “But in the second half, we really stepped up the intensity on defense. We talked about making sure we did not come out in the second half and let them go on a run and get some excitement. So the guys did a nice job of locking in on the defensive end preventing those big runs that they can have with made three’s.”
Leading the scoring attack for the Kits was Chris (18 points), Nojel (12 points), senior guard Malcolm Townsel (12 points) and Elyjah (10 points). With the victory, the Kits won their fourth straight regional title and improved to 26-3 overall.
“It feels good,” said Nojel regarding winning the Regional. “It is a great accomplishment, but there is a bigger accomplishment waiting for us to win.”
Next up, the Kits were set to take on Loyola Academy in the Class 4A Waukegan Sectional semifinals on March 7. Should the Kits win that game, they would play the Notre Dame and Waukegan winner for the Sectional title on March 10.
When asked what the keys to success in the Sectional are, Nojel said, “What we have been hanging our hat on since [the season] started: defense. That is the key to winning and to keep holding teams to less than their average, under 30, under 40. I feel like we can have a lot of success in the Sectional.”