The ability of Evanston’s basketball players to play to their strengths as a team was never more evident than in Tuesday’s regular season finale at Maine East.
Doing what they do best, junior reserves Ashton Laude and Ethan Kye combined to shoot 9-of-16 from 3-point range as the Wildkit bench wiped out the Blue Demons by a 72-51 margin in a Central Suburban League crossover game.
Evanston’s regular starters —Jaylin Gibson, Isaiah Holden, Blake Peters, Elijah Bull, Daeshawn Hemphill — didn’t play a single minute in the blowout victory. Evanston improved to 26-4 on the season and will return to the Maine East fieldhouse next Tuesday for the Class 4A Illinois High School Association regional tournament against either the host team or Hoffman Estates.
Laude, a 6-foot guard, poured in a career-high 20 points and Kye netted a career-best 11, all in the first half, for the winners. Sophomore Rashawn Bost contributed 12 points, while Logan Talmage (10) and Kyle Wilson (9) paced ETHS to an overwhelming 43-24 rebounding advantage.
Maine East, the No. 18 seed in the sectional, plunged to 4-26 on the season despite 13 points from Alex George and 12 from Jason Dedios.
Even without the starters, the Kit backups shot 42 percent (11-of-24) from 3-point range due to good ball movement and the kind of unselfish play you might not expect from players who haven’t gotten many minutes of action to date.
“This wasn’t a load management issue like in the NBA. We weren’t trying to rest guys,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “But when you look at our schedule, we’ve played a lot of 1 or 2-possession games and we’ve had to grind out a lot of those wins. And this is a crossover game that has nothing to do with playoff seeding or winning the conference, so we wanted to give opportunities to guys who have been working just as hard as the others.
“It was an audition of sorts for the postseason, and a great opportunity to show who should be the No. 6 man, the No. 7 man, the No. 8 man in the rotation. They did a good job of playing together and finding the hot hand, instead of playing like ‘let me show you what I can do.’ As a unit, they really played well.”
Laude looked like he might be an impact player based on his summer performance, but struggled to find playing time once transfers Bull and Hemphill arrived for the start of school. Tuesday, he shot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc and also grabbed six rebounds in just 18 minutes of court time.
“Ashton really shot it well tonight,” Ellis praised, “but we have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket. He’s skilled, he can dribble, pass and shoot, but he’s still learning what it takes to make winning plays. We need guys who can defend and rebound, too.
“We wanted to get guys out on the floor tonight to find count if we can count on you in the postseason. Now is when the REAL season starts.”
A 14-0 run in the second quarter pushed the visitors to a big lead, only to see the Demons close out the half with a 10-0 run of their own to narrow the halftime deficit to 37-25. But the Wildkits regrouped and outscored the hosts 19-11 in the third quarter.
“It was kind of a game of momentum, and we had a run of our own after that 10-0 run by Maine East,” Ellis pointed out. “I like the poise they played with, having not been in those situations before, and I was really pleased with our intensity.”