It could be that even the members of the Evanston boys basketball team who have prior state tournament experience just needed a reminder of what was at stake Wednesday night in the Class 4A regional semifinal game at Beardsley Gym.
After all, no one in the entire state has played an Illinois High School Association postseason game since the winter of 2020 and the philosophy of survive-and-advance might be a new concept to some that need to be refreshed.
Whatever the case, the resemblance between an Evanston Township High School team that played a flat first half and the one that poured in 40 points in the second half was purely coincidental.
Or maybe not. The fact that the Wildkits staggered past No. 12 seed Schaumburg for a 58-49 victory, after trailing by 7 points at halftime, wasn’t exactly something new for head coach Mike Ellis to watch from the bench.
“It was ups and downs, peaks and valleys for us again tonight. It was a roller coaster,” said Ellis after his fifth-seeded squad punched a ticket to Friday’s championship game against No. 4 seed Glenbrook North. The Spartans survived a second-half rally by Chicago Taft and advanced with a narrow 57-56 triumph.
“Schaumburg was ready right from the start and we came out flat. You have to play hard – and we had to expect Schaumburg would play hard – because at this point in the season people’s careers are on the line. We got excited in the second half and made some plays, made some shots. We made more second-effort plays, on offense and on defense, and at this point in the season you can’t expect anything to be easy.”
ETHS will take a 19-9 record into the championship game against Glenbrook North, a foe they split games with during the regular season. Both squads won on their home courts.
Winner of that matchup will advance to the Glenbrook South Sectional.
On Wednesday, seniors Rashawn Bost (17 points) and David Gieser (14) made sure their seasons didn’t end with solid offensive performances. The Wildkits also received a second-half boost from junior Malachi Barrett, whose toughness was a part of a winning formula, and freshman Yaris Irby, who netted all 7 of his points in the fourth quarter.
Down 25-18 at the halftime intermission, the Kits collected themselves and regrouped to play a more efficient final two periods against Schaumburg’s 1-3-1 zone defense. After an 8-for-23 start, the hosts fired in 13 shots in just 20 attempts in the second half.
The Saxons (final record of 15-13), however, didn’t go quietly and the outcome was still in doubt until the Kits put together a 7-0 spurt in the fourth quarter to pull away. It started with a 3-point bucket by Bost, and when Irby scored a fast-break layup with an eye-catching reverse layup, the Saxons called timeout with 5 minutes, 53 seconds left on the clock.
As he walked by one of the officials, Schaumburg’s Nick Doroskin yelled a profanity out of frustration – not directly at the referee – and was promptly whistled for a technical foul.
Gieser sank both free-throw attempts, pushing the lead to 48-38, and a couple of minutes later the hosts slipped into ball control mode and sealed the verdict by converting 8 of 12 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Schaumburg’s DeJaunte Wilson scored a game-high 18 points, but the close attention of Barrett in the second half slowed him down enough and Barrett also contributed 6 points, three assists and three steals in his most extended playing time of the season, except in blowouts.
The junior guard hasn’t been part of the regular rotation lately but earned some stripes Wednesday.
“Malachi gave us some toughness plays in the second half, and we needed that,” Ellis said. “He cleaned up rebounds and he valued the basketball. We wanted to reduce the odds of Wilson scoring, and you’ve got to give him credit for taking on that challenge.
“Malachi is a good defensive player, but he has to be productive on the other half of the court. Tonight he took care of the basketball – when the others wouldn’t – and that’s how you earn more playing time. He still has a lot to learn. He just has to play hard and play smart.”