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Another loss to a state-ranked basketball team isn’t exactly the best situation for anyone to build on.

But the learning curve for Evanston freshman Yaris Irby is something Wildkit fans should pay close attention to over the second half of the season.

Irby fueled a late comeback with his offense – and his defense – that fell short in Evanston’s 61-50 loss to Rolling Meadows Saturday, Jan. 15 at Beardsley Gym. Irby’s fearless play helped the Wildkits cut a 15-point deficit to just 3 points with 3:50 left in the contest before the Mustangs (14-2 overall) pulled away.

The freshman guard scored a career-high 14 points and also contributed four steals on a night where none of his teammates could get untracked on offense. In fact, the hosts mustered just 15 points in the first half before making the Mustangs sweat down the stretch.

The hero of Evanston’s season-opening win over Libertyville, in which he scored the winning basket in his varsity debut, Irby has seen his playing time fluctuate before earning a starting job coming out of the Centralia Holiday Tournament. Saturday he converted 6-of-14 field goal attempts and his attacking style on offense stood out in a game where some of his older and more experienced teammates didn’t even look to score.

Prince Adams (9 points), David Gieser (8) and Malachi Barrett (8) were next-best for Evanston, which dipped to 11-6 on the season. The Wildkits will host Loyola Academy at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, in a makeup game.

Cameron Christie, regarded as the top college prospect in the Class of 2023 in Illinois, paced Rolling Meadows with 27 points, including a 12-of-14 effort at the free throw line. Christie’s older brother Max is a freshman starter at Michigan State.

For the second straight night the Kits committed fewer turnovers than a state-ranked foe, this time by a margin of 15 to 18. Exactly half of the visitors’ miscues came in the fourth quarter, most after they had built a 47-32 advantage and ETHS amped up the defensive pressure.

“Our kids did a good job of fighting back from a below-par performance in the first half,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “Those turnovers really did us in. But for us to turn over a team as good as Rolling Meadows like that, you have to give credit to our kids for not quitting and playing hard.

“In the second half we played with a little bit more desperation, and that’s the way we need to learn to play every trip down the floor, like we’re down 5 points. I give a lot of credit to our guys because they didn’t check out [after falling behind by double digits], they turned up the intensity and tried to make some things happen.”

Irby showed them the way. After a 3-point basket by Barrett started the hosts on their way back, the first-year guard scored 8 of Evanston’s next 10 points and pulled off three steals when the Kits resorted to full-court pressure for one of the rare times this season.

The southpaw’s drive to the basket after a steal with 3:50 to play pulled ETHS to within 48-45. But the offense stalled at that point and the losers mustered only a jumper by Gieser and three free throws by Adams down the stretch.

“Yaris played really hard tonight, and you could tell it meant a lot to him to come out and compete like that,” Ellis explained. “That competitive nature is something this team has been lacking. Yaris has a good basketball IQ and some of the others need to see and read the defense better, and react to it like he does.

“He’ll have his ups and downs because all freshmen do. But hopefully, tonight is something he can build on. We’re just looking for him to show some consistency.”

Evanston did a poor job of attacking the Mustangs’ zone for much of the contest and fell into a 27-15 hole at halftime, shooting just 28% (5-of-18) from the field. “We missed a lot of shots, and just missed some wide-open 3s,” Ellis said. “You make your own breaks, though. We can’t just rely on shot-making to create our energy.”

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