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David Gieser’s initial exposure to the Evanston-New Trier basketball rivalry was based largely on hearsay.
“What I heard about it was that New Trier always brings their best– and Evanston always brings their best,’ said the Evanston senior forward, who played his first three seasons of high school basketball at Fenwick before transferring. “And that it’s extremely exciting to be a part of it.”
Both teams brought their best to the E-Town Showdown event Friday night as the rivalry resumed at Northwestern University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena for the first time since 2012. The Wildkits got off the deck from a disastrous second quarter to topple the state’s No. 2 ranked team by a 62-55 margin in front of 3,000 spectators.
Reeling from a 23-0 punch delivered against them in the second quarter, the Wildkits pulled together as a unit and evened their Central Suburban League South division record at 4-4 while improving to 17-8 overall. Gieser’s 17 points, plus 12 from Jack Tully and 11 from Rashawn Bost produced the upset win that will likely cost New Trier (24-3) an outright CSL South championship, and perhaps the No. 1 sectional tournament seed as well.
The winners shot a sizzling 65% (24-of-37) from the field but also turned the ball over 18 times, 9 of them coming in that second period when the Kits could have come unglued.
After leading 22-5 at the start of the second quarter, everything unraveled for the Orange and Blue with unforced turnovers and missed shots piling up to give the Trevians just the momentum they needed to grab a 28-22 halftime lead.
The going was tough – and then the Wildkits showed their own toughness.
“The main difference between tonight and some of our past games, where we had none or one of our guys show up, was that tonight they all stepped up,” praised Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “We needed more than one guy tonight and you have to give credit to the whole team. We responded to adversity, we stayed connected, we stayed together, and that’s what good teams do.
“We came out focused and ready to play right from the start. But New Trier’s a good team and they didn’t lay down. They did a great job of fighting back in the fourth quarter, and I actually think that woke us up. That was probably the best thing that could have happened to us, because we were able to respond with a level of toughness. The start of that second half was amazing, and the fighting [back] is the thing I’m most proud of.”
“We were down 6 at halftime, but we were fine,” added Bost. “We came out hard and pushed back against them in the second half. And when we got the lead, we kept it. Playing on this [college] court we found more spaces to get open against their 1-3-1 trap. That gave us room to play the way we want to play.”
Gieser agreed with his head coach that the early lead could have given the Wildkits a false sense of security, and that New Trier’s comeback prevented that.
“I think that run they went on kept us level-headed after we had that big lead,” he said. “At halftime we just said it’s still a 2-possession game – and now it’s our time.
“This was our best game of the year and it was a blast to be a part of it. Both student sections showed out, there was tons of excitement, and all that energy made it a lot more fun. We fed off the energy of the student section. This is why we play high school basketball.”
New Trier, ranked No. 2 behind unbeaten Glenbard West in the most recent Associated Press Class 4A state poll, was paced by Jackson Munro’s 17 points (on 8-of-9 shooting) and Karlo Colak’s 13. But Munro didn’t score at all in the fourth quarter and Colak, who doesn’t start, had only a single 3-point basket down the stretch.
Evanston’s gritty defenders held their rivals without a field goal for almost 6 full minutes in the decisive fourth quarter. By the time New Trier finally did get a bucket, on a drive by Peter Kanellos, the winners had built a double digit lead to 56-45 behind a pair of baskets by Gieser, two layups by Tully and a 3-point shot from the corner by Bost on the first possession of the quarter.
New Trier never got closer than 7 points down the stretch. The two rivals meet again on Monday at the New Trier West campus in a game that had to be rescheduled from December due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After staggering through the month of January with a 5-5 won-loss record, Ellis hopes his squad has turned the corner.
“We didn’t feel like we were (only) a 16-8 team,” Ellis said. “This team has talent, they try their best, and it’s a good group of kids to be around.
“We wanted to right our season tonight.”