The Evanston Township High School boys basketball team captured the State Class 4A Regional title March 2, beating Notre Dame 66-51. The Kits had the upper hand almost the whole game. They led 11-8 with 3:08 remaining in the first quarter when junior guard Jaheim Holden tallied the next five points to extend the lead to 16-8 with under a minute to go. The lead grew to 20-10 when junior guard Lance Jones converted with 7:31 to go in the second. But the Dons would not retire quietly, going on a 16-5 run, including a basket with 10 seconds remaining in the half to give them a 26-25 lead. On the ensuing possession, Jaheim drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Kits a 28-26 lead.
Jaheim tallied 14 points in the third quarter, including their last five baskets of the quarter, as they took a 47-37 lead into the final stanza. Fortunately for the Kits, the fourth quarter did not bring any major drama. Junior guard Ryan Bost tallied nine points to help erase any thought of a Dons comeback. Ryan’s three-pointer with 3:25 remaining made it 60-44 and the Kits held on to capture the Regional title. With the victory, the Kits improved to 23-5 overall.
“I thought we played with a lot of poise and with good balance. Our defense keyed the result, as we played solid defense,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “Our guys did a great job of playing present. They did not worry about the last play, they just moved onto the next play and I thought that one of the big keys to the way we played was our mindset.”
Leading the way for the Kits was Jaheim, who scored a career-high 29 points. Ryan also added 18 points in the victory. “Jaheim came ready to play on both ends of the floor,” explained Coach Ellis. “Defensively he made some plays, offensively he made some plays. He showed up ready to play so I think he carried some guys with that mindset.” The Coach continued, “[Senior forward] Matt Hall [also] did a great job defending [Notre Dame’s 6’9” forward Dusan Mahorcic, who scored 18 first-half points, but only 10 in the second half] late in the game, and freshman guard Jaylin Gibson did a great job defending Dusan as well. He is hard to cover, so I thought defensively Matt and Jaylin did a great job in the second half trying to neutralize him and taking him out of being able to basically score at will.”
Regarding his own performance against Notre Dame, Jaheim said, “I felt after my first shot, then the second one went in and it kind of opened up from there. I just kept shooting. My coach told me to keep shooting and that is exactly what I did. I am just glad I can do what I can do for my team so we can get the W.”
Even though this win gave the Kits a Regional title, Coach Ellis said there is more work to do to get where they want to go. “We are fortunate enough that we get to practice tomorrow,” said Coach Ellis. “That is always the thing this time of year is [if you keep winning that allows you to] be able to put the gear back on and keep going to practice.”
Jaheim added, “It is an accomplishment, but we are looking for bigger things. We are trying to get a state championship by any means necessary,” explained Jaheim. “[The Notre Dame win] was just one achievement that we are trying to get to and there is plenty more [work to do] down the road to get to where we want to go.”
In order for the Kits to be successful in the Sectionals, Jaheim said, “Playing with passion and playing to our strengths. Last year we played with a sense of urgency in the Sectional, and I think if we take that into the Sectionals this year again, we will be successful. Me being a leader on the team, I really have to be one of those that can be accountable.”
Prior to beating Notre Dame, the Kits beat Glenbrook South in the semi-finals. Next, the team was set to play Loyola Academy in the Maine East Sectional semifinal on March 6, and if they win, the Sectional championship game on March 9.
On March 7, ETHS won their first game in the sectionals, 61-51, against Loyola Academy, and will face either Niles North or New Trier in the sectional finals on March 9. Lance Jones scored 25 points, and the Kits are not 24-5 for the season.