Evanston’s basketball team stayed one game behind Central Suburban League South division leader Glenbrook South Friday night with a 48-40 victory at Niles West.
The defending champs can still claim a share of the division title with a win over GBS next Friday at Beardsley Gymnasium.
But first the Wildkits have to be concerned with a more immediate test, the MRI on junior guard Jaylin Gibson’s left wrist.
Gibson missed the Niles West contest after aggravating the injury in last week’s 3-overtime victory over Sussex Hamilton of Wisconsin. He has played through the pain since suffering the original stress fracture at the Centralia Holiday Tournament, icing it whenever he gets the opportunity, but he reinjured it last Saturday attempting to take a charge against Hamilton star Patrick Baldwin Jr.
“It hurt a lot on Saturday, but it does feel better now,” Gibson said following the win over Niles West. “I should be back on Monday.”
ETHS head coach Mike Ellis isn’t that sure.
“It’s not up to Jaylin, and it’s not up to me,” Ellis said. “No one knows right now. It’s in the hands of the doctor.”
Wildkit fans, players and the entire coaching staff will spend a nervous couple of days waiting for those MRI results. The possible loss of the versatile Gibson, with postseason play just around the corner, overshadowed a solid performance for three quarters Friday as the state-ranked Wildkits improved to 24-3 on the season and 8-1 in conference play.
The final score in the Wolves’ gym was deceptive because the Wildkits dug deep into their bench in the fourth quarter and those reserves surrendered 21 of West’s total 40 points. Niles West, now 12-16 overall, fell to 1-8 in CSL play despite 10 points apiece from Adnan Seferovic and Andrew Pabst.
Evanston built a 37-19 advantage before the subs took over and Ellis had no complaints at either end of the floor, even though the Kits shot just 9-of-27 from 3-point range and only Elijah Bull (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals) reached double figures for the winners.
None of the starters played beyond late in the third quarter. Next best for the visitors were Blake Peters with 8 points and Isaiah Holden with 7.
“I felt like our guys played solid tonight for 24 minutes,” Ellis explained. ”We talked a lot about playing a better mental game tonight. We made a lot of smart decisions, and we didn’t force anything. I can’t remember us taking too many bad shots.”
Ellis reluctantly addressed the possibility that the Wildkits could be without the all-around game that Gibson has provided, both inside and outside, to date.
“Jaylin is in the top 2 in all of our (team) statistical categories,” said the coach. “If he’s not playing, someone else will have to get his rebounds, our better defenders will have to handle the matchups more powerfully, and he has the experience you can’t replace (after competing in two Final Fours in his first two high school seasons).
“A guy like Rashawn Bost (6 rebounds, 5 points) picked up his rebounds tonight and I have a lot of faith in our other guys. If Jaylin’s out they don’t have to do much more — just a little more. That’s one of the benefits of the team culture that we have here, that we don’t lean on just one guy. That helps prepare you more for a situation like this.”
Evanston will host Chicago Kenwood before the balloting begins for the sectional tournament seeding. The Wildkits could land anywhere from first to fourth and a statement win over Kenwood might deliver any “undecided” voters to the ETHS caucus.
“That game could have seeding implications, that could sway somebody’s vote,” Ellis said. “But I really don’t worry about seeds. When you get to the sectional, seeds don’t matter if you’re not playing your A game. It’s all about the matchups you get and how you’re playing then.”