Probably no high school basketball team in the state of Illinois is more committed to playing good defense than Loyola Academy.
That’s a lesson Evanston learned the hard way Tuesday night at Beardsley Gymnasium.
In a game that will likely decide the No. 1 seed for the Class 4A Elk Grove Sectional tournament, the Ramblers got right in Evanston’s grill and throttled the Wildkits with their gritty man-to-man defense to secure a 41-33 non-conference victory.
Loyola, now 21-2 on the season, held the Wildkits to exactly half of their season scoring average as a team. That defensive performance came on the heels of an 81-point splurge by Evanston in its previous game.
No open looks and no answers for the hosts, who fell to 20-2 on the season.
“No question about it, Loyola came out and out-toughed us tonight. They certainly played harder than us, and tonight they really wanted to come in her and play defense,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “They only give up 38 points a game and obviously they were focused and locked in tonight.
“They’re the best defensive team we’ve played.”
ETHS got off only 35 field goal attempts, partly due to an inability to shed Loyola’s clinging defenders, and partly because they turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 14 times. Ten of those turnovers came in the first half and allowed Loyola to seize a 23-17 lead.
Jaylin Gibson led Evanston with 14 points, but was also responsible for half of those team turnovers. Isaiah Holden added 9 points but, for the second year in a row, Loyola shut down junior sharpshooter Blake Peters. Peters scored just 1 point and was 0-for-6 from the field.
“How are we supposed to win when we get 1 point from Blake Peters?” Ellis asked. “And we didn’t value the basketball enough tonight. A lot of those turnovers were unforced. Those turnovers in the first half allowed Loyola to build their confidence, because when you don’t get (volume) shots and you cough it up that much, you’re going to give the other team confidence.
“Good defense is their MO and they deserved to win. Loyola played way harder than us. I felt like they were the aggressor tonight, and that was the main difference in the game. There was no fight in us last Tuesday (against Zion-Benton), and there was no fight in us tonight.”
Evanston’s offensive struggles (10-of-35 from the field compared to Loyola’s 13-of-26) surfaced just when it appeared the Kits could put together a run in the third quarter. A fallaway 15-foot jumper by Gibson cut the deficit to 23-20, but then the hosts came up empty on their next 5 possessions, including an offensive foul call against Holden, 3 missed shots by Elijah Bull, and a short jumper by Holden that came up short.
Loyola finally countered with a 3-point bucket by Will Pujals, and a steal at halfcourt led to a beat-the-clock, running 3-point basket by Matt Mangan to reestablish control for the Ramblers up 29-22.
Two free throws by Gibson pulled ETHS within 36-33 with 68 seconds to play, but the hosts never scored again.
Loyola was led by Bennett Kwiecinski’s 11 points and 6 rebounds. Twin brother Jordan Kwiecinski netted 9 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.