The Evanston Township High School boys basketball team took on Central Suburban League South foe Maine South on Dec. 7 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston in search of a victory in their home opener, after playing the first six games on the road. Fortunately, the Wildkits were able to defend their home court as they beat the Hawks in overtime by a score of 54-52.
In that game, the Kits jumped out to a 13-6 lead after one quarter as senior Lance Jones and sophomore Blake Peters combined for all 13 points in the quarter. The Kits would extend the lead to 28-15 at halftime. But then the visiting Hawks made it interesting as they limited the Kits to just seven points in the third quarter and got back to within 35-29 heading to the fourth.
From there, the Hawks would tie the game at 35-35 with 5:41 remaining in the fourth and then they took the lead at 37-35 with 4:51 remaining. That lead would grow to 41-37 with 3:06 left. But the Kits fought back to tie the score at 43-43 when Lance scored with 1:09 remaining in regulation. Then after the Hawks missed a layup, the Kits regained possession with four seconds remaining but unfortunately, a three point attempt at the buzzer by Lance was no good, which meant the teams would play a four-minute overtime period.
In overtime, senior Jaheim Holden hit a three pointer with 3:33 remaining, and after the Hawks made two free throws, Lance and Jaheim made back-to-back shots to give the Kits a 50-45 lead with 1:30 remaining. The Hawks then made it 50-47 with 1:11 left but the Kits were able to hold on for the victory from there thanks in part to four free throws from senior Ryan Bost in the final 20 seconds. With the victory, the Kits improved to 6-1 overall.
“I thought we played really solid for 28 of the 36 minutes,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “There was a stretch there towards the end of the third and into the fourth where we were just on the floor [without] a unified agenda, but we talked about how Ryan, Jaheim and Lance closed that win out with execution, getting the stops, getting it into overtime was big and I think our defense was pretty solid for most of the night during that victory.”
Leading the way for the Kits was Lance, who scored 16 points, while Jaheim poured in 11 and Blake added eight in the victory. In addition, Ryan came up big with four clutch free throws in the final seconds, which speaks to the importance of senior leadership, per Coach Ellis. “When you have got seniors on the floor, and they realized it was a [close] game, it became very important for them to start playing the right way,” explained the Coach. “But it has got to be important to play the right way [the entire game]. That is really the bottom line. We have to be on a mission to play the right way for 32 minutes and that is one of the things that we put on the board before the game, play for 32 minutes. I thought we played really good for 28 of the 36 [including the four minute overtime], but you have to play the right way every on possession.” The Coach added, “Lance’s shot [at the end of regulation] almost went in but in that overtime period, our seniors [including Ryan, Lance and Jaheim] gave us some steadiness.”
Regarding the team’s struggles to score in the third and part of the fourth, Coach Ellis said, “That is where we kind of got off track. It was too individual, too much ‘on me’ and not enough playing through your teammates. When we are hardest to guard and when we get our best shots is when we play through each other.”
When asked how pleasing it was to come out with a win despite some struggles in the third and fourth, the Coach said, “We scrapped. We played hard. I thought we played very well in the first half, and we came out in the first four minutes of the third still playing together and locked in, but then I just think we did not respect Maine South enough, we let our guard down, we stopped doing the little things, we stopped checking down, and we got killed on the boards. I just think we have got to respect our opponent every [game], and that is a team that you have to respect. They are so well-coached and they play so disciplined that they are going to do exactly what they did [come back and take the lead late in the fourth], and they are going to be in every game.”
Next up, the Kits take on Niles North on Dec. 14 and then St. Joseph the next day. From there, they travel to Zion-Benton on Dec. 18 and then head to Fairdale, Kentucky to participate in the King of Bluegrass Tournament from Dec. 20-23.