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Never bet against Blake Peters — or the Evanston defense — in a must-win situation on the basketball court.
Just 12 hours after Evanston dropped from the unbeaten ranks, Peters responded with one of the best games of his celebrated career and the Wildkits pulled even again in the Central Suburban League South division standings with a decisive 68-54 victory at Glenbrook South Saturday.
Stuck in a mild shooting slump, Peters broke loose for 28 points as the Kits shot down the Titans, returning the favor by handing the hosts their first defeat of the season.
Evanston improved to 9-1 overall and 4-1 in league play. The Wildkits face a hectic schedule next week, with 4 games — and maybe a 5th — on the schedule beginning with a CSL crossover makeup game Monday at Maine West. They’ll host Deerfield in another CSL crossover on Tuesday, prior to a home-and-home weekend series with rival New Trier.
So head coach Mike Ellis won’t have much time to savor what he described as his team’s best performance of the season.
“Our guys felt bad about their performance on Friday night, and they were really motivated today,” Ellis said. “I thought this was the most focused they’ve been in all of our games this year.
“GBS is a really good team with a lot of weapons. When you play them, you have to play smart against their switching defenses, you have to execute, and you have to make shots. Today we made shots (55 percent from the field). You have to score inside and out. Last night all of our scoring was inside and that was one of the lowest perimeter performances I’ve witnessed.”
Peters made the difference in that department. Limited to just 1 successful 3-point basket in 3 previous games, the senior standout fired in 6-of-11 shots from beyond the arc to finish with 28 points, 2 points shy of his career single game high. He added 10 rebounds and 3 steals for the winners, who led by 20 points for much of the second half of the road win before settling for the final 14-point margin.
Ellis was confident the senior would find his stroke in a big moment. Had the Kits lost again to GBS on Saturday, their path to at least a share of their 7th straight division championship would have been almost impossible.
”I didn’t say anything to Blake. There was no Knute Rockne inspirational speech,” Ellis said. “Everybody goes through spells like that. You just have to trust in Blake. I’ve been fortunate as a coach to see how he goes about his business these past 4 years, and you know you’ll always get his best effort.
“Day in and day out, he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever had at basketball. And the way he played today wasn’t about getting himself on track. He was playing for us to win. He didn’t want to let his teammates down.
“We approached today like the last time we played Glenbrook South, like it was a sectional semifinal. Friday night will be like the sectional final (against New Trier) and when we play Maine South it will be like the supersectional. After that we could play for the mythical state championship (in the Chipotle Classic invitational tournament). We’ve tried to put the season into context of what our opportunities WOULD have been in March.”
Saturday, junior Rashawn Bost backed Peters up with a 13-point performance, big men Ola Ajiboye (6 blocked shots) and Prince Adams clogged the paint, and senior guard Elijah Bull took GBS point guard Cooper Noard completely out of the game for the first 3 quarters.
Noard, who netted a team-high 18 points on Friday, didn’t score a field goal Saturday until the fourth quarter with the game already decided. He finished with 11points. GBS big man Nick Martinelli led all scorers with 31 points, 10 coming in the final stanza.
The Wildkits were held scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the game, but persevered for an 11-10 first quarter lead as Peters hustled for an offensive rebound following a miss by Adams and converted the layup with 1 second left before the buzzer.
Bull and Peters teamed up for all of the points in a 9-0 run early in the second quarter, and the visitors built the lead to 34-21 by halftime. Peters, a man on a mission, delivered 7 more points in the third quarter, which ended with ETHS on top 51-31.
Glenbrook South never got closer than the final 14-point margin in the fourth quarter.
ETHS shot 55 percent (25-of-45) from the field for the game, including 9-of-20 from 3-point range.