Evanston basketball fans who braved a winter storm to watch the Wildkits play Friday night at Glenbrook North probably had never seen a Mike Ellis-coached Evanston team surrender so many open looks, whether they were layups or 3-point opportunities.
But in the end the undefeated visitors proved they can play defense when they want to.
Finally showing a sense of urgency after trailing most of the Central Suburban League South division contest, the Wildkits held GBN to just 1 field goal in the last 10 minutes of a 57-44 victory.
On paper, it was a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions. But the visitors were challenged before notching their 17th straight win while the Spartans stumbled to their 8th loss in a row.
GBN’s methodical pace and better ballhandling — the Spartans turned the ball over 30 times the first time the rivals met — pushed the winners to the max.
Junior Isaiah Holden led the winners with 18 points, 4 assists and 2 steals and Blake Peters chipped in 14 points after a slow start as Evanston improved to 5-0 in conference play. GBN, which is still searching for its first CSL South win, was led by Nick Pavlovic, Ben Foster and Brandon Gordon with 11 points apiece.
“We’re trying to remain locked in, and we’re always telling them not to complicate winning,” said Ellis after the Wildkits scored 15 unanswered points to open the fourth quarter. “We didn’t change anything on defense in the fourth quarter. It just finally clicked for the players that we have to pick up our game. The clock is ticking — let’s be us!
“It seemed like we just played in the fourth quarter tonight. For the first 3 quarters, we just seemed to be going through the motions. I think part of it is just a lack of understanding the moment. When you’re dealing with teenagers, sometimes they’re not capable of looking ahead 5 weeks and realizing what this game now means. They all count, and this could be the game that determines the conference championship. We didn’t play like it was important, we didn’t play with a sense of urgency.”
GBN (4-13 overall) shot 53 percent (17-of-32) from the field, but the hosts’ only bucket in the final 10 minutes was a meaningless layup by Pavlovic with 27 seconds left in the game. By then, the Kits had stretched the lead to double figures after trailing14-8, 23-18, and 40-39 at the first three quarter stops.
Evanston’s comeback started on the defensive end, at the end of the third period, as Peters broke loose and fired in 9 points in the period. The Spartans paid special attention to the junior sharpshooter and he only shot 1-of-5 in the first half before catching fire.
A 3-point play by Jaylin Gibson, who didn’t play in the first half, closed the gap to a single point entering the fourth quarter. Sophomore Rashawn Bost scored a 3-point play of his own to trigger a 15-0 run in the final period, and GBN only mustered its first points of the quarter on a pair of Pavlovic free throws with 1:25 to play.
The Wildkits will take on south suburban power Hillcrest at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at New Trier, as part of the “War On The Shore” tripleheader. New Trier plays Oak Lawn and Loyola is matched against Homewood-Flossmoor in the other two games.