After beating St. Joseph on Dec. 16 by a score of 73-60, the Evanston Township High School boys’ basketball team looked to make it back-to-back victories when they took on Zion-Benton on Dec. 19 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston. The Wildkits did just that, as they handily beat the Zee Bee’s by a score of 62-42.
In that game, juniors Jaheim Holden and Lance Jones, along with senior Matt Hall got the Kits off to a 15-10 lead through the first quarter as the trio combined for 12 of the team’s 15 points in the quarter.
Then, after a three-pointer by senior William Harrison Porter on the first possession of the second quarter, Jaheim extended the lead to 21-10 when he drilled a three-pointer of his own with 6:37 remaining in the half.
But the Zee-Bees did not go down quietly as back-to-back baskets got them to within 21-15 with 5:27 remaining.
Those baskets seemingly were a wake-up call for the Kits as they responded by scoring four straight points, a free throw by freshman Isaiah Holden and a three-pointer by freshman Russell Peters, with 3:50 remaining. The Kits then outscored the visitors 8-7 to close out the first half with a 33-22 lead.
That 11 point lead would be extended to a 21 point lead as Russell, Matt, and Lance combined to score 10 straight points to open the third quarter.
Matt’s second basket of the 10-0 run with 6:01 left made it a 43-22 contest. From there, Zion-Benton hit back-to-back shots to make it a 43-26 game at the 5:01 mark. But the Kits outscored the Zee Bees 12-5 to close out the third quarter, making the score 55-31 heading to the fourth.
That 12-5 run included two three-pointers from Russell, who finished with nine points. Then in the fourth, the Kits were able to maintain their 20 point lead despite being outscored by a tally of 11-7 in the final stanza as they earned the 62-42 victory.
In addition to Russell’s aforementioned nine points, Jaheim led the Kits offensive attack with 14 points and Lance added 10 points. But the real standout of the game was Matt, who pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds, blocked three shots and scored seven points in the victory as the Kits improved to 8-2 overall.
“Without question Matt was the difference in the game,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “He was very steady from start to finish. He stabilized us on the interior with all of those defensive rebounds and put backs on the offensive end and I think his teammates really appreciated Matt’s play.”
When asked how pleasing it was to be able to establish control of the game in the second quarter and early in the third and maintain it for the remainder of the game, Coach Ellis said, “We came out in the second half and really did not allow them to make a statement to open up the second half.”
The Coach continued, “We came out, we had an 11 point lead at halftime, but with a couple quick buckets [it would have been] a five or six point game again, so they did a good job of maintaining that lead in the second half,” the Coach explained.
“But it was not too far of a stretch in the first half. It felt like there were times we could pull away but Zion-Benton, give them credit, they hung around.
“They are not just going to come into somebody’s gym and lay down, so I thought our guys did a good job of just, even through the times where we were not happy with our productivity, we just did not let that get us down and the next guy stepped up, so I thought it was an overall, led by Matt, an overall team effort.”
The Coach was also pleased with the performance of his group of freshmen, including Isaiah, Elijah Bull, and Russell.
“I think the way the game started, the freshmen came in a little more locked in than the older guys. We got out to a lead, but I thought it was a careless first quarter. We just were not in sync, we were not focused,” explained the Coach.
“I thought our intentions were at the wrong end of the floor and we were just trying to outscore Zion-Benton instead of stop Zion-Benton and that is sometimes where the freshmen come in and they are not necessarily trying to just launch up quick shots, they are there to make positive plays, and I thought that was how the game unfolded.
“They came in off the bench and gave us some stability defensively. Then that is when we got the transition scoring going for us on the offensive end.”
Next up, the Kits are set to participate in the 75th annual Centralia Holiday Tournament from Dec. 28-30 at Centralia High School.
Regarding that tournament, Coach Ellis said, “That is not going to be easy. We have O’Fallon to start off with down in their neck of the woods [on Dec. 28], then a potential Champaign Central High School matchup looming in the second round games.
“In addition to all the Tennessee teams that are there, and Centralia, it is definitely going to be a test for us.”