It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that the shooters from Evanston and New Trier’s basketball teams heated up in the second half of the rivalry showdown at Gates Gymnasium Friday night.
More like warmed up than heated up, after the Wildkits led only 16-13 at halftime before pulling away for a 49-43 victory in front of a near capacity crowd.
Evanston found its shooting stroke from 3-point range just in time, sinking 7-of-13 3-point field goal attempts in the second half on a night where almost no individual player reached his season average.
A lackluster offensive showing by both squads didn’t keep Evanston from bouncing back from its only loss of the season and maintaining a tie with Glenbrook South atop the Central Suburban League South division standings. The two teams meet next Thursday in Glenview.
New Trier’s combination of man-to-man and zone defenses has held the Wildkits to their two lowest offensive outputs of the season, including a 50-40 ETHS triumph the first time the two teams met. Friday, the Kits scored only 4 field goals in the first half, yet surprisingly still held a 3-point lead.
Then Jaylin Gibson — benched for almost all of the first half with 2 personal fouls — jump-started the winners in the second half as Evanston improved to 19-1 overall, 6-0 in league play.
Gibson was never better as a facilitator and scorer in a decisive third quarter stretch that finally snapped the Wildkits out of their offensive doldrums. He scored 6 points in the period, and his penetration and passing set up back-to-back critical 3-point baskets by Elijah Bull that gave the visitors some breathing room on the scoreboard.
The Evanston junior finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists on a night where no one filled up the stat sheet except New Trier’s John Carragher, who tallied a game-high 24 points. Blake Peters (13 points) and Isaiah Holden (10 points) paced the winners.
“It’s a W, and a win is a win,” sighed Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “I give (New Trier coach) Scott Fricke a lot of credit for having his guys ready to play against us and putting them in position to beat us. We can’t count on teams shooting 3-for-19 (from 3-point range) like they did tonight. We caught a break, but we can’t win games just hoping teams will miss shots. That’s what we did tonight.
“We had too many mental breakdowns (including 5 charging fouls) in this game. But our guys didn’t get frustrated in the first half, and they continue to focus on the defensive end even though the offense wasn’t clicking. We weren’t solid with our passing like we normally are, but in the second half , once New Trier spread their defense out it became more open, more of a guard’s game.
“Jaylin Gibson is such an unselfish player with the way he finds guys. He’s always looking for his teammates, and we found guys on target and in rhythm to shoot. When you deliver the basketball where it should be, that doubles your shooting percentage.”
Back-to-back corner treys by Bull — not usually Evanston’s first option as a 3-point shooter — off passes from Gibson climaxed a 9-0 run, and Peters and Holden added 3-pointers before the period ended with ETHS on top 34-26.
Both offenses stalled again in the fourth quarter, when the Wildkits sealed the win by connecting on 7-of-8 free throws.
“Elijah hit those two big 3s, and Rashawn (Bost) hit a big shot in there, too. You’ve got to give them credit because they made them count,” Ellis said.
“Elijah can shoot it. He was in the gym this morning working on his shot, and it was good to see him rewarded for that hard work. He pushed it to a 3-possession game, and in a game like this, it seemed more like a 5-possession game.”
New Trier, which shot just 6-of-21 from the field in the first half, slipped to 11-10 overall and 2-4 in the CSL South.
Evanston will take on Chicago Heights Bloom, ranked No. 1 in Chicago in the preseason, on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the When Sides Collide shootout hosted by Glenbard East High School.