In winning the IHSA Class 4A Waukegan Sectional title, the Evanston Township High School boys’ basketball team advanced to face Whitney Young in the Chicago State Supersectional on March 14 needing one more victory to advance to the State final tournament.
But the Wildkits came up short against the Dolphins, falling by a score of 67-59. In the Supersectional game, the Kits were without one of their leading defenders, in sophomore Lance Jones, who suffered a bruised tailbone in the Sectional final against Waukegan. That proved costly. Whitney Young was able to take control of the game down the stretch, as they outscored the Kits 15-7 in the final five-plus minutes after senior Chris Hamil tied it at 52-52 with 5 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the game. Leading the Kits’ offense was senior Nojel Eastern, who scored a game-high 31 points in his final high school game before he suits up for Purdue next season, while sophomore Jaheim Holden chipped in 10 points.
Regarding his team’s performance against Whitney Young, Head Coach Mike Ellis said, “It was a situation where we had a lead at halftime (33-30) but only led for two and a half minutes of the game.” The Coach added, “[So] we went into halftime with that lead [but] they came out in the second half playing a little more solid and a little more focused than us. It is just tough to have your season end one victory away from the state final four.”
With the loss, the Kits finish the season 28-4 overall. “I was very pleased with the way our season unfolded. The guys really invested a lot into the year. Every night out was a huge challenge for us and our guys, for the most part, answered those challenges game in and game out,” said Coach Ellis. “I thought our guys did a great job of forming a bond and the chemistry that it takes to be a successful team, and we are hoping those guys who are retuning learn from the seniors on the right way to do those things and also that the seniors take those lessons going forward in life.”
Even though the Kits did not achieve their ultimate goal of winning a state championship, they still had a very successful season. During the regular season, the Kits captured the St. Viator Thanksgiving Tournament championship, finished second at the Beach Ball Classic holiday tournament in South Carolina, and won the Central Suburban League South Conference title. Then in the IHSA Class 4A playoffs, the Kits were crowned Regional and Sectional champions as well.
“I think that the seniors who played the majority of the minutes for us this year led by example and showed what it takes to be successful,” said the Coach. “I am looking at the positives of the 2016-17 season as [we were] able to beat some teams that went on to win state championships, [we]captured some prestigious awards and tournament victories along the way, and made a run to the IHSA Class 4A Elite Eight.”
The Coach continued, “Anytime you can get to the Supersectionals and be right there [in getting a chance to] get that experience to go downstate and spend the weekend in the final four, that is what you work all offseason for, and that is what you compete night in and night out and build a schedule for: to make a deep run in the postseason. Fortunately our guys went 4-1 this postseason. Anytime you can win four games in the postseason, you know you have a special team.”
When asked what it is going to take to get to the Supersectional or further next season, Coach Ellis said, “It is being good and being a little bit lucky. We were kind of unfortunate with having Lance out with his injury [as that] kind of handcuffed us a little bit in how we could defend Whitney Young. So it takes a little bit of luck. It takes a little bit of timing and all of it put together. All we can do as coaches and players is continue to improve day by day, put ourselves in that position to have that opportunity to go downstate and then let that play out.”
If all goes to plan, look for the Kits to be in the conversation as a contender for the state championship once again next season.