What does Christmas in January look like for a high school basketball coach?
Probably the combination of finding a will to win – and finding a defensive stopper – all at the same time.
Evanston began a challenging stretch of January games on the right note Tuesday night at Beardsley Gym, as seniors Isaiah Moore and Rashawn Bost stepped up to lead the Wildkits past Niles North 51-45 in a Central Suburban League crossover game.
The Kits, now 11-4 overall, found that will to win in the fourth quarter after trailing 37-36, driven by the veteran Bost’s 4 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists in the period.
ETHS head coach Mike Ellis was almost as glad to see that competitive spirit emerge at the halfway point of the season – from a roster full of inexperienced players who first believed they had to make individual impressions on the coaching staff – as he was to see Moore shut down North’s Division I hopeful point guard Yogi Oliff.
Tougher opponents than the Vikings – like Glenbrook South on Friday and Rolling Meadows on Saturday – will make things more difficult once the schedule really kicks into high gear, but Ellis didn’t have any problem finding things to celebrate despite his team’s 13 turnovers.
Bost’s stat line included a team-high 11 points, plus 5 rebounds and 8 assists. Prince Adams came off the bench to contribute 10 points, 10 rebounds and a couple of steals, and Moore racked up 9 points of his own while limiting Oliff to just 1-of-7 shooting from the floor and hassling him into 4 turnovers.
“We talked about this stretch of the next 4 games coming against teams that could be top four sectional seeds, so it’s a relief to start out 1-0 instead of 0-1,” Ellis said. “We really wanted to see that will to win out of our guys tonight. Just go out and put it on display.
“We lost the lead [in the third quarter] because we were making plays that a lot of the guys would like to have back. But it was just a matter of them moving on to the next possession.”
The Wildkits were able to do that with a little help from a North program that will never be accused of being too patient on the basketball court. The Vikings (7-5) did connect on five 3-point baskets in the first half, but kept jacking up long-range shots at the start of the final quarter and missed their first 6 shots from the floor.
By the time the visitors finally connected, Evanston had seized the lead on buckets by Bost, Adams and a 3-pointer by David Gieser and never surrendered that lead.
Niles North shot 6-of-20 (30%) from 3-point range and missed all 6 tries in the fourth quarter. Cyrus Walker led the losers with 13 points as the only visitor to reach double figures.
“That’s just their style of play,” Ellis shrugged. “They’re built to play with a lot of energy and go on runs, and we set the ball up on a tee for them when we didn’t convert our chances and turned the ball over. When we take care of the basketball, we’re hard to guard. But when we got too cute with it, that’s what led to results for Niles North.”
Evanston built a 6-point lead in the third quarter, only to see it melt away as the Kits mustered just a pair of field goals – both by Bost – in the last 3 minutes of play. But the senior guard had the answers in the fourth quarter. After North regained the lead on a baseline drive by Pervis Brunson, Bost countered with a score of his own in the lane with less than 3 minutes left in the contest.
Bost set up Adams for a pair of scores and the junior clinched the victory with a pair of free throws, all of those scores coming in the final 2 minutes.
“I think Rashawn was pressing a little over the first 3 quarters,” said Ellis, “because he felt like he could have made more of an impact. But we have all the faith in the world in him to be the best player on the floor in the fourth quarter, and he may well have been that tonight. I thought Isaiah Moore was really a standout for us on both ends of the floor. His defensive performance was the best of the season against a point guard with Division I offers. He had to expend a lot of energy out there tonight, and you can tell that it meant a lot to him to come out of here with a win. He’s our best defender right now, because he has the size and the ability to defend four different positions.”