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Entering the most important stretch of this abbreviated basketball schedule in 2021, the last thing the Evanston basketball team needed was to change things up on offense.
After all, the Wildkits came into Tuesday night’s Central Suburban League crossover game against Deerfield having won 10 of their first 11 games and, with the exception of a 3-point team shooting percentage that only hovers in the mid-30 percentile, offense hasn’t been much of an issue.
But a program that hasn’t had to deal much with academic problems in the 10 years since head coach Mike Ellis took over the program lost promising post players Ola Ajiboye and Prince Adams to grade difficulties and had to adjust to another new look — at least for another week.
Back to their 5-guard offense, the Wildkits sputtered in the second half and only connected on 6-of-29 3-point field goal attempts overall while settling for a 47-35 triumph at Beardsley Gym.
Both Ajiboye, a senior, and Adams, a sophomore, are among the many ETHS students who have struggled with remote learning when it comes to keeping their grades up. Their post presence and continued progress on the court had given the Wildkits what amounted to a different look for a program that has featured strong guard play over most of Ellis’ tenure.
“We were trying to look at some different things and tweak our 5-Out offense,” explained ETHS assistant coach Necus Mayne. “We’re tinkering to see what might give us better looks, without that low post presence now that Ola and Prince are out. What we’ve tried to preach is that second rotation off the drive and kick, to try to get that open shot.
“We didn’t foresee using that offense much because of the progress both guys have made. But all of our starters are familiar with the 5-Out, so it’s not a bad idea to get it out and see if we’ll have some success with it.”
Deerfield (4-7 overall) never really posed a serious threat to the host team. But Evanston only outscored the Warriors 21-19 in the second half as seniors Blake Peters (17 points) and Isaiah Holden (10) were the only Kits in double figures, and 5 of Holden’s points came at the free throw line.
Evanston shot just 37% (18-of-49) from the field compared to Deerfield’s 34% (14-of-41).
The Wildkits rattled off 10 unanswered points during one stretch in the second quarter and led 26-16 at the halftime intermission. Deerfield was paced by Adam Galvan’s 10 points and never did get closer than 8 points in the second half.
Mayne noted that senior Daeshawn Hemphill regained his eligibility last week, so the loss of a starter in the 6-foot-7 Ajiboye was less of a blow in that regard.
“Having Dae Dae back is great, because he gives us a little bit more stability and he’s so comfortable with our offensive and defensive calls,” said Mayne. “It’s a tradeoff we wish we didn’t have to make, but we’ll take it. Everything happens for a reason.
“I think it’s a credit to all of the other guys in that locker room because they’ve handled this E-learning so well, and put themselves in the right position to be able to play. It’s crazy. I don’t know how I’d deal with it if I was in high school.”