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Evanston’s seniors weren’t going to leave the basketball program without taking one more character test.
Guess who passed that test — again?
Blake Peters fired in a 3-point basket to beat the overtime buzzer to climax a late rally as the Wildkits stunned Notre Dame 58-56 in the quarterfinal round of the Chipotle Clash of Champions invitational tournament held at St. Patrick High School Friday in Chicago.
Peters’ shot, from just to the left of the top of the key, sent the bench into delirium and sent the Dons packing. The semifinals and finals will be played on Saturday at Notre Dame, but the hosts won’t be part of the action.
Instead, Evanston (16-2) will take on Chicago Simeon at 11 a.m. in one semifinal. The other semifinal will match DePaul Prep and Fenwick. No consolation game will be played, and the title game is set for 7 p.m.
Simeon smothered St. Patrick 57-38, while DePaul upset Whitney Young 55-43 and Fenwick outscored Mundelein 60-51 in a tournament format that dates back to the years when 8 teams advanced to the state finals, not 4.
Matched against former ETHS teammate Louis Lesmond — who transferred to Notre Dame following his sophomore season — Peters couldn’t get untracked in their 1-on-1 matchup. But the senior standout, after netting just 1 point in the first half, finished with 12 points and stuck that final dagger deep into Notre Dame’s heart.
Elijah Bull (17 points) paced the winners while Lesmond totaled 19 points, but didn’t score at all in the final 10 minutes of the contest. Notre Dame’s Troy D’Amico, a Southern Illinois recruit, finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Peters had a chance to win the game in regulation but misfired on a 3-point shot that was challenged by the Notre Dame defense.
You don’t give the leading scorer in Evanston history a second chance — and expect him to miss again.
“We all love wearing this jersey, and we don’t want it to end,” said the jubilant senior. “We’re all treating this like the state tournament. It’s the same mindset.
“Even when we got down (trailing by 8 points with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter), I knew the game wasn’t over because they’ve lost big leads a couple of times this year. We just stayed locked in, took it one play at a time, and we pulled through.
“Louis Lesmond is a great player and we’ll be in the same league (Ivy League) next year. Going up against him is a nice challenge. I wanted the ball in my hands there at the end because I felt like I should’ve made that first shot. I tried to get open and Itchy (Holden) got me the ball for that stepback 3. That stepback is a difficult shot, and it’s a great feeling to make it.
“Elijah really stepped up and kept us in the game, and Rashawn (Bost) had some great steals (team-high 6). I just brought us home.”
Bost pulled off the biggest play in a game full of them when he intercepted a deep pass with the Dons leading 56-55 with 16 seconds remaining, only needing to run out the clock and/or make a free throw to secure the win.
Instead, D’Amico tried to beat the ETHS pressure with a long fullcourt pass that Bost rose up and swiped.
Then it was Peters’ turn.
“We told Rashawn (during a timeout) that he was going to be our free safety on the play,” said ETHS head coach Mike Ellis, who earned his 401st victory as a head coach. “We told him we wanted him to bait D’Amico into thinking they had a guy open deep, and then he could either pick it off or D’Amico would throw it into the balcony.
“Everybody stepped up for us after the first quarter and made plays. We just kept plugging. You have to play well to beat a team as good as Notre Dame. I thought our team defense did a good job of stopping their Division I trio (Lesmond, D’Amico, Anthony Sayles). It’s a credit to their tenacity and the fact that there’s no quit in them.
“I felt pretty optimistic when Notre Dame elected to take the air out of the ball, because that’s not their game. When that happened I thought OK, now we’ve got a chance.”
Evanston wouldn’t have been in position to keep the season alive without Holden. The gutsy senior, who lost his starting job over the past 2 weeks and appeared to struggle with his confidence, was credited with 2 critical steals in the fourth quarter after Notre Dame seized control at 46-38 on a Lesmond 3-point basket from the corner with 4:05 to play.
Holden scored a pair of dazzling baskets in the lane on back-to-back possessions to pull Evanston into a 48-48 deadlock with 1:15 remaining.
Then the dynamic senior point guard, a reluctant shooter as he’s seen his playing time cut, cashed in on a 3-point shot from the left wing with 16 seconds remaining in overtime to keep the outcome in doubt. He finished with 9 points.
“Itchy and Elijah are such great leaders by example for us,” Ellis praised. “The fact that he’s not playing his best didn’t keep him from making the difference in the game. Even when his confidence might be a little suspect, he’s not afraid to make a play. And when you have no fear, like Itchy does, it’s only a matter of time before you get that confidence back.
“That shot he made? That’s what seniors do.”