Halfway through his basketball career at Evanston, Blake Peters is still evolving as a player.
He’s already taken the next step as a 3-point shooter, and that versatility was on display against Friday night as the Wildkits drilled visiting Niles West 71-37 in a running clock game.
Peters paced the unbeaten (15-0 overall, 4-0 Central Suburban League South division) Wildkits with 18 points — on a half a dozen 3-point buckets — as ETHS cashed in on a season-high 13-of-27 attempts from long distance.
Peters connected on 6-of-13 3-point tries, including step-back 3s, 3s taken off ball screens, and 3s attempted in transition against a defenseless Wolves’ squad. Jaylin Gibson added 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals and Isaiah Holden netted 11 points for the winners.
Haris Mackic led Niles West (7-9, 1-3 CSL South) with 12 points.
Fresh off a Most Valuable Player performance at the recent Centralia Holiday Tournament, Peters has taken his all-around game to the next level. He’s still a stout defender who rebounds as well as any 6-foot-1 player around, and his improved ability to put his head down and get to the basket has resulted in a team-best 14.8 point per game scoring average, tops for ETHS.
Ironically, that overall success has come at the slight expense of his 3-point accuracy. He entered Friday’s contest connecting on just 31 percent from beyond 17 feet, way down from last year’s remarkable 48 percent.
The third year starter is obviously a marked man by enemy defenses at this stage of his career and , just as obviously, has blossomed into more than just a catch-and-shoot marksman.
Only the success of the Wildkits as a team has prevented Peters , a gym rat who is constantly honing his shot technique, from being more frustrated with his lack of success from 3-point range so far.
“Now that it’s the second half of the season, I want to improve on my percentage and on my volume (of shots),” Peters said. “We’ve been winning, so my percentage hasn’t really mattered that much. My role the last couple of years has been as a catch and shoot guy, but I can’t be just that this year. I have to do more, be more of a leader.
“I know I can shoot and it will come. My teammates trust me a lot. I’ve changed how I work on my 3-point shot now. The schools recruiting me have emphasized that they wanted to see me getting to the basket more. It’s hard to break out of that catch and shoot stigma. I’m taking more 3s off the dribble, and coming off of screens, than I did before.
“Tonight, I hit about 4 in a row (in the first quarter) but then I had a cold stretch (5 straight misses). I just had to stay focused.”
Peters’ 12 points, plus 7 from Gibson and 4 from Rashawn Bost, powered Evanston to a 26-8 first quarter lead and the rout was on. Ten different players scored for the winners as head coach Mike Ellis cleared his bench, and 6 different Wildkits connected from 3-point range on the night.
“All those 3-pointers weren’t really by design,” Ellis pointed out. “I think it was more an indication of our unselfishness and of playing smart basketball. If someone knocks down a 3-pointer, we always like to get them another touch to see if they’ve got the hot hand.
“As long as they share the ball and don’t take contested 3s, I’m fine with it. We have to play to our strength, and right now we’re taking such good care of the basketball (averaging just 10 turnovers per game) that it presents a lot more 3-point opportunities for everyone.”
Evanston hosts Chicago Mather at 6 p.m. Saturday in a non-conference game.
Tickets are still available, at a cost of $10, for the first E-Town Showdown basketball tripleheader set for Feb. 8 at Northwestern University. The shootout will feature two boys games — Loyola vs. Stevenson at 5 p.m., and Evanston vs. Sussex Hamilton of Wisconsin at 6:30 — climaxed by the 8 p.m. matchup between the Evanston girls and Benet Academy.
Tickets are only available online at www.tinyurl.com/etownshowdown and will cost $12 the day of the event.