With only four days left in the high school basketball season, Mike Ellis wasn’t about to stop teaching.
The Evanston head coach used the 10-minute halftime intermission Tuesday at Highland Park to get his team back to basics.
Following a brief halftime talk, the Wildkits spent the next 8 minutes focusing on a passing drill, one they would typically turn to in a daily practice. So this was probably the shortest “practice” of Ellis’ coaching career.
“I might have pulled that back when I was a freshman coach (1993 at Peoria Richwoods),” Ellis said following Evanston’s 50-36 Central Suburban League crossover win. “We just threw so many careless, nonchalant passes in the first half, and nothing I put on the whiteboard (Xs and Os) would have changed that.
“I felt like we wasted opportunities with passes that were either not on time, or not on target. You can’t catch and shoot those passes. I think they figured that out, that the little things are the most important things. You can’t get bored with the basics.”
Leading a mere 16-14 at halftime, the Wildkits took that lesson to heart. They scored on 7 of their first 8 possessions to open the second half and pulled away to a 37-27 lead by the end of the third quarter and eased to the road win.
Blake Peters, a move-in to Evanston from Highland Park, caught fire after missing all 6 of his field goal attempts in the first two periods and finished with a game-high 19 points. Big men Ola Ajiboye and Prince Adams, back in good graces academically, combined for 18 points and 10 rebounds, with the 6-foot-7 Ajiboye netting a season-best 12 points.
ETHS (14-2 overall) shot just 6-of-23 from the field in a dismal first half, but put together a crisp 13-0 run to start the second half. Back-to-back 3-point baskets by Elijah Bull and Peters pulled the trigger on that outburst, and a fast-break basket by Peters and Ajiboye’s 5 points built the advantage to 29-14 before Highland Park managed a score.
The Giants (4-8 overall) were paced by Billy Rudman’s 13 points and Nate Fleisher with 11.
With a showdown looming Wednesday against Maine South at Beardsley Gym — the Wildkits need a win to at least earn a share of the Central Suburban League South division title — Ellis was glad to have both Ajiboye and the 6-5 Adams back in the fold.
“Today was a role reversal after what we went through last week,” said Ellis, referring to the fact that ETHS had to revert to a 5-guard lineup against taller foes from Maine South and New Trier. “There’s no substitute for that size and that length. We’ve been exposed in the games we were without it.”