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It was only fitting that Blake Peters turned out to be the hero on his historic night.
The Evanston senior climbed to No. 1 on the school’s career scoring list Wednesday night, but his legacy won’t be that of a scorer — just of a winner.
Peters converted a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left in the third overtime as the Wildkits escaped Park Ridge with a 54-52 Central Suburban League South division marathon win over Maine South.
Peters’ reputation as a Maine South-killer was established with that memorable full-court shot he made to sink the Hawks his freshman year. Wednesday, he scored a game-high 23 points, 16 of them coming in the fourth quarter and the overtime periods.
Peters’ last 2 free throws capped a perfect 10-of-10 showing at the free throw stripe and came as the Wildkits, who missed out on opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and in the first and second OTs as well, were holding the ball for a final shot.
He drove into the teeth of the South matchup zone defense on the last possession, drew contact and then ended the longest game in school history. The Wildkits also won a 3-overtime game last year against Sussex Hamilton of Wisconsin.
“I just wanted to come through for my teammates, and I didn’t want it to go any longer,” said the senior standout. “They showed me confidence in the huddle and I’ve known some of them since I was in elementary school.
“Losing was NOT an option.”
“When we saw the matchup Blake had on top of their zone, we knew we didn’t need to call timeout,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “We had an idea he could get by his defender if they were protecting the 3-point line, and Blake made the right read and executed the play.”
Evanston, now 12-1 on the season and 6-1 in league play, has done almost nothing BUT win since Peters entered the program. His 3-point shot with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter lifted him past ETHS Hall of Famer Juvon McGarry on the all-time scoring list.
Peters has now poured in 1,490 points and has passed both McGarry (1,479) and Nojel Eastern (1,345) with at least 4 games left in his career. The Wildkits could tack on a couple more games if they win the conference title and earn a spot in a season-ending tournament created by former New Trier coach Rick Malnati.
The Kits had to survive their worst shooting performance of the season (29 percent) to stay alive in a bid for at least a share of the CSL South crown. They trailed 38-31 with 5 minutes left in regulation, then rallied behind Isaiah Holden’s 5 points and 2 steals in the period.
Peters, who had to sit out portions of each half with foul trouble, netted his team’s last 6 points on a pair of 3-point buckets, the last one coming at the 1:15 mark.
Maine South knotted the score at 46-46 on a rebound basket by 6-foot-6 Marko Anderson (22 points, 12 rebounds) with 51 ticks remaining. ETHS waited for the final shot, but a twisting drive by Holden (11 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) rolled off the rim.
Sean Gallery led the Hawks (11-6, 2-5) with 20 points before fouling out in the last overtime, including a 14-of-18 showing at the charity stripe. The Hawks will visit ETHS on March 10 to conclude the conference season.
“This is a tough place to play,” said an exhausted Peters. “And their matchup zone is always tough to play against. I didn’t read the defense as well as I wanted to for most of the game. It’s always ugly when we play them, but we kept it close. This is a veteran team, and we’ll find a way to win.”
“We didn’t have as many opportunities to score off our defense tonight, and that’s because you can’t take away the perimeter and the paint, too,” Ellis pointed out. “We did a good job on their 3-point shooters (Maine South only converted a couple of treys in the first quarter, none after that) and we had to make sure they couldn’t score at will around the basket, too.
“For a lot of minutes it was a well-tuned defense playing in concert (undersized with 5 guards in the game most of the time). We had some breakdowns, but that was good team defense.”
Peters, who played on the same AAU team with ex-Wildkit Jaylin Gibson and moved to Evanston from Highland Park before entering high school, is well-versed in the program history and appreciated the historic moment, even as drained as he was physically.
Giving maximum effort, however, is the norm for No. 15 who is now No. 1.
“I came to this school because of the basketball program’s reputation throughout the state of Illinois as a powerful program,” explained the Princeton University recruit. “I just wanted to win. I worked hard every day — I worked my tail off — and I had a lot of great teammates who assisted me, screened for me and believed in me. The coaching staff are like best friends to me, they’ve continually built my confidence and never told me to stop shooting. And I’ve had great support from my family, too.
“I know I’m not exactly the prototype of a Division I (college) player. I wore those goggles when I was a freshman and people told me I looked like I belonged in a science lab, not on the basketball court. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but it means a lot to me to get to this point. I’m just hoping it will inspire other kids like me.”
“He was our leading scorer his freshman year in a game Downstate, and not too many freshmen have done that. That right there shows you how much moxie he has,” Ellis praised.
“He has no fear in him, to go along with that talent and that unselfishness. He plays the game the right way. He only scores when he knows we need him to score. He’s a 6-foot 3-point shooter, but time and again in games he’s also been our leading rebounder. That speaks to his will to win and his love for the game.
“Blake is a competitor, he’s a smart player, he has a strong will — and he has talent. He’s worked himself into that record book.”