Brittanny Johnson admitted that she couldn’t help flashing back to past losses against Maine West Tuesday night.
But this time Rashele Olantunbosun wrote a different ending to the game script.
Olantunbosun scored all 15 of her points in the second half, including 6 straight free throws in the fourth quarter, as Evanston’s girls basketball team defeated nemesis Maine West 54-50 in Des Plaines and ended a 7-game losing streak in head-to-head matchups with the Warriors.
The senior guard arrived late for the contest but it was worth the wait for the Wildkits, now 2-0. Given the option of driving herself to the game due to COVID-19 restrictions, Olantunbosun had more trouble negotiating against traffic than she did maneuvering against the West defense. She converted 9-of-12 free throw attempts to back up a 20-point performance by junior teammate Lola Lesmond.
Evanston never trailed after getting down 5-2 in the first 2 minutes, but after a succession of close losses to West — including two in overtime — Evanston’s head coach knew she couldn’t count on a victory until the clocked ticked down to 0:00.
“Is the monkey off our backs? It doesn’t feel like it,” Johnson said. “The kids have a saying — ‘I hate it here’ — and I REALLY hate it here. In that last minute I felt it happening all over again. We didn’t play well, but this time I was happy we made the plays we needed to make down the stretch.
“That last one here (in the 2020 Class 4A sectional championship game) really hurts to this day, because we had state championship aspirations as a team. That’s still pretty fresh in our minds and I had a lot of texts today (from past players) saying they’d be watching how we did. Even though both teams have lost a lot from last year, this game means something. This has become quite a rivalry and I know West wanted to win today as much as we did.”
ETHS survived poor free throw shooting, a combined 9-of-24 as a team if you don’t count Olantunbosun’s marksmanship at the stripe, by forcing 28 turnovers and playing gritty defense inside the paint despite being outsized badly.
Inexperienced post defenders Amarii Mays, Ciara Gentle and Maggie Farragher kept their bigger West counterparts at bay for most of the contest, although 6-foot Maine West sophomore Jaclyn Riedl did break loose for 10 points in the final quarter to keep the hosts in contention. She finished with a team-high 18 points.
The 5-foot-10 Mays fouled out with 3:22 left in the game but, matched up against 6-3 Jade Thomas, limited her to a single field goal. And Farragher’s steal in the final minute — she wrenched the ball away from Riedl with the Wildkits nursing a 5-point advantage — helped seal the verdict.
“That’s the first time we’ve come here that we were outsized like this, so we had to make some adjustments,” noted Johnson. “I thought Ciara played well, Amarii did a nice job, and Maggie made probably the biggest play of the game with that steal.”
Olantunbosun, one of two returning starters from last year along with Lesmond, also contributed a key defensive stop in the final moments. Maine West cut the deficit to 53-50 when Riedl tossed in a 3-point basket with just 12 seconds left in regulation.
The Kits turned the ball over against pressure, but on the ensuing inbound play Olantunbosun applied some pressure of her own and knocked the ball off the knee of Warriors’ guard Aya Deiri to get the ball back. She then split a pair of bonus free throws at the other end for the final 4-point margin.
“Z (Olantunbosun) had the option of riding the team bus or driving and she didn’t get here until the second quarter,” Johnson added. “I didn’t think it was fair to put her in cold, that’s why she didn’t play until the second half. I was just hoping we could hold them off until then.”