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The melting snow outside — in 46-degree temperatures — didn’t really jibe with the way Evanston basketball coach Mike Ellis described the Wildkits’ season so far.
But the Kits officially reached the mid-point of their abbreviated season Tuesday night and remained perfect with a 64-46 road victory at Niles North.
Now 8-0 overall, Evanston plays Glenbrook South in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday that will likely decide the Central Suburban League South division championship. But the comparison Ellis drew was to a “normal” season — remember those? — where his squad would be looking to take the next step as a team following a Christmas tournament appearance.
“Normally we’d have a 2-week preseason, and open gyms, some 2-a-day practices,” he said.
“To me it feels like we’ve been effectively playing catchup all this time.
“Right now it feels like it’s Christmas tournament time, and we only have 3 weekends left. January is the most important month, I’ve always stressed it, because you either get better as a team or you get worse. And you’re never the same at the end of January as you are on January 1st.
“We have to make this our January and improve as a team. We’ve still got a ways to go. But our goal is still the same, to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”
The Wildkits had no trouble coping with Niles North’s pressure and pulled away in the second half after leading 32-24 at the intermission. The winners were only charged with 13 total turnovers and got double figure scoring from Rashawn Bost (16 points), Isaiah Holden (15 points) and Blake Peters (12 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals).
“We talked a lot about not letting our mistakes be compounded against that pressure defense they play,” Ellis explained. “You can’t allow one mistake to become mistake after mistake after mistake against them.”
Jalen Butler (17 points) and Yosef Oliff (13) paced the Vikings. But Butler required 20 shots to get those 17 points, and it was Peters’ defense that kept him in check in another do-it-all performance for the senior standout.
“Blake is doing such a great job,” Ellis praised. “His game is always evolving. He was pretty much all over the floor for us tonight. Halfcourt to the baseline, inside or outside, he’s such a big asset for us now. He’s not sitting in the corners like he did his freshmen and sophomore years.”
The Wildkits received a boost for the closing weeks of the season when Daeshawn Hemphill regained his eligibility this week. He didn’t score and only had a couple of rebounds in limited action in his 2021 debut after being sidelined by academic issues prior to this week, but the former starter was a key player in last year’s 29-win season. He shot 47 percent from the floor as a junior and was in the same role that Rashawn Bost has embraced this season, that of a viable offensive option when the defensive focus is on someone else.
“Last year Dae Dae was the guy other teams would leave to help on the others, and he found a lot of wide open looks because of that. It’s the same role Rashawn has for us now,” Ellis added. “We’re looking for him to get some touches and get his timing back. He can certainly help us.”
As in all 7 of their previous outings, the Wildkits owned the second half Tuesday. They put together a 13-0 scoring run in a 3-minute stretch in the third period, with 5 different players scoring as part of that surge.
Niles North did manage to cut the deficit to 45-33 at the end of the stanza, before the visitors reeled off a 15-3 burst in the final period to clinch the win.