The definition of the term “explosive” can change within any high school basketball program from one year to the next.
Take Evanston, for example. Head coach Mike Ellis’ current squad isn’t made up of guards like Lance Jones or Jaheim Holden, who could snatch the ball away from opposing guards to trigger fast breaks in the blink of an eye, or 3-point shooters like Blake Peters, who could light it up for double figures in points in just a quarter of playing time.
But the Wildkits scored the last 15 points of the first half Saturday – including an 11-point outburst in the final 100 seconds – and pulled away from Chicago Taft for a 70-43 victory.
Evanston’s eruption Saturday was a welcome sight for Ellis as the Kits halted a two-game losing skid. In only their second game this season at Beardsley Gymnasium, the Wildkits found their rhythm after being held under 40 points in the two losses leading up to the non-conference game.
David Gieser poured in 11 of his team-high 16 points for the Wildkits in that second quarter spurt as ETHS (10-4) wiped out a 21-15 deficit midway through the period. The team’s leading scorer since transferring in from Fenwick this summer, the senior forward connected on 4-of-8 field goal attempts from 3-point range and helped the hosts shoot 52 percent (25-of-48) from the field overall.
Jonah Ross finished with 11 points as the only other double-figure scorer for the winners. Taft, now 10-4 overall, was paced by Michael Dempsey’s 15 points but turned the ball over 23 times.
Gieser, Rashawn Bost and Isaiah Moore all sank long-range shots and Jack Tully contributed a fast break lay-in during that final 1:40 that established a 30-21 lead and left everyone on the squad satisfied that their offensive slump was a thing of the past.
Ellis pointed out that there’s nothing like seeing the ball go through the net to lift the confidence of a high school player.
“That might not have been explosive for the teams we’ve had the past 5 or 6 years, but that qualifies as explosive for us now,” said the veteran coach. “You have to give credit to Taft for the way they showed up to play basketball tonight. It was obvious to me that our kids had to panic a little before they started playing well.
“We had strung together five straight sub-par quarters [including Friday’s loss at Maine South] and we just said we can’t let this happen two nights in a row. We usually like to play with more freedom here, and get up and down the floor, but the better the structure is, the better this team will perform.”
Gieser lit the torch for the second-quarter explosion, accounting for a pair of 3-point buckets to keep the Kits within striking range when the offense couldn’t get untracked for the first 12 minutes Saturday.
“David was huge for us tonight,” Ellis praised. “We were really searching for something after that first quarter [down 14-9]. Who’s going to step up? He took on that responsibility and really elevated our play.”
Freshman point guard Yaris Irby earned his first varsity starting nod and contributed 6 points, 4 assists and 3 steals. He was one of 13 different Wildkits to score in the contest.
“Yaris and [senior] Aidan Maher both did a good job for us running the offense,” added Ellis. “Yaris was solid with the basketball. We’re not looking for a guy to make some fancy highlight plays, we need someone to just steady the ship.
“We’ve struggled to score the last three games and a lot of that is confidence. When you believe you’re a solid player, and you’re not producing [points], that’s challenging for any player. So when the ball goes in the basket? That helps.”
In a schedule quirk rarely seen, Evanston will play almost all of its games during the month of January in the friendly confines of Beardsley Gym. That challenging road continues next week with matchups against Niles North (Tuesday), Glenbrook South (Jan. 14), Rolling Meadows (Jan. 15) and the rescheduled Loyola Academy game (Jan. 17).
“Our next four games are against teams that could be top four sectional seeds, so it will show what we’re made of,” Ellis said. “We’ll find out just where we belong in our sectional.”