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Teams other than the ones involved in the Central Suburban League showcase “championship” basketball game usually use the last regular season crossover contest as a tuneup for the Illinois High School Association state tournament.
Evanston’s defense showed that it was playoff-ready Tuesday night in Highland Park.
So did senior center Jack Tully.
Evanston Township High School, which plays in the South Division, held the host North Division Giants without a field goal for the entire first half, and the 6-foot-8 Tully recorded career highs for points (20) and rebounds (12) as the Wildkits scored a 58-43 victory in the regular season finale.
Evanston will take a 19-9 record into postseason play after limiting Highland Park to 0-for-19 shooting from the floor in the first half. The Kits led 28-5 at the halftime break and all 5 Giants points came at the free throw line.
ETHS head coach Mike Ellis, asked if he could recall ever holding an opponent to just 5 points in two quarters, flashed back to his days at Peoria Richwoods. “It was either a regional or sectional game against Pekin, and we were up 9-5 at halftime,” said Ellis. “It might even have been in 2006 when we got to the state finals.
“Tonight we were solid on defense, and when I think of solid, I think of it as both physically and mentally. We were solid when it came to thinking the game, we weren’t just flying around all over the place. I was also impressed with the way we approached our offensive possessions, because for the second game in a row, we had good balance inside and outside.”
That balance included 8-of-12 shooting from the floor by Tully, who also had two assists and a blocked shot. David Gieser was the only other Wildkit to reach double figures with 19 points as Ellis cleared his bench and relied mostly on reserves in the second half. Emery Jones chipped in a season-high 9 points for the winners.
“Jack Tully really responded well for us tonight and that was great to see,” Ellis said. “He got a good rhythm going and he’s really looking good. I’d love to see him play quite a few more games.”
Evanston will host its own Class 4A regional tournament beginning Feb. 23, when the No. 5-seeded Wildkits will face No. 12 Schaumburg at 7:30 p.m. No. 4 Glenbrook North and No. 13 Chicago Taft will play at 6 p.m., with the winners moving on to the regional title game at 7 p.m. Feb. 25.
The coronavirus pandemic halted Evanston’s postseason drive at the sectional level back in 2020 and completely wiped out the Illinois High School Tournament last year, so Ellis and his squad are eager to see if they can rise to the occasion with more on the line now.
“It’s just good to be back in the playoffs,” said the ETHS coach, who has guided teams to the Final Four a total of four times. “We’re all just grateful to be back in that environment.”