Isaiah Moore’s reputation at the lower levels of the Evanston basketball program was mostly as a 3-point shooter.
Now he’s built an even bigger reputation – by locking those guys down.
Moore’s emergence as a defensive stopper stole the spotlight Friday night at Beardsley Gymnasium as Evanston Township High School stifled Glenbrook North 51-36 and claimed the Class 4A regional tournament championship.
Moore throttled North’s best scoring threat, Ryan Cohen, limiting him to a mere seven field goal attempts and a total of 10 points. That was enough to deliver a berth in the Glenbrook South Sectional on Tuesday, March 1 against No. 1 seed Glenbrook South, which survived an upset bid by Niles North for a 67-64 victory.
New Trier, a 56-33 winner over Conant, and Rolling Meadows, which eliminated Hoffman Estates 59-56, will meet in the other semifinal on Wednesday, March 2.
With so many pieces to fit into a puzzle – and very few experienced varsity players back – at the start of the season, head coach Mike Ellis’ priority was to find a defender capable of containing either guards or forwards, or both.
Based on summer play, he didn’t think he had one.
But the 6-foot-4 Moore embraced the opportunity, beginning in the preseason, and quickly grew into the role. Now he’s matched against the opponents’ biggest scoring threat on a nightly basis.
In just the past month he’s held players like Cohen (8 points the last time the Kits played GBN), New Trier’s Jake Fiegen, Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas and others significantly under their season averages whenever they match up against the slender senior.
Moore’s individual defense, combined with the overall man-to-man grittiness displayed by the rest of his teammates, helped the Wildkits improve to 21-9 with the victory Friday night. The regional title marked the eighth straight since Ellis took over the program.
“Before the season started, we challenged our guys to be THAT guy,” Ellis recalled. “If you become THAT guy, that will guarantee you’re going to be out on the floor. We needed someone to eliminate the other team’s best percentage scorer. It’s a role you identify in the preseason, in the weight room, in open gyms in the off-season. It’s about attitude.
“Isaiah listened when the coach said [he would] be guaranteed to start if [he] could guard someone. He realized that was his path to be a starting player. Isaiah felt like he let us down in our last game and he made up for it in a big way tonight. He was tremendous, he really played with a lot of heart and desire.”
Cohen won’t be sorry to see his nemesis graduate. The GBN junior only got off two shot attempts in the first half and most of his team-high 10 points came in the fourth quarter when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
“I’d guard the other team’s best player, or the No. 1 player in the nation if I had to, whatever it takes to help my team win,” said the ETHS senior. “I’ve heard people saying Cohen is the best shooter in the state. So I just came out and locked him up. I have a lot of fun just locking down the best guy. My mentality is just that I’m not gonna let the other guy score. Cohen is probably the toughest guy I’ve had to guard because he moves around a lot. I just wanted to make it a struggle for him and stay in his face.
“I’m just speechless [after winning a regional crown]. We’ve been counted out as a team so many times this year. We took nothing for granted tonight, and we all did a good job – all together.”
The Spartans, who got the nod for the No. 4 sectional seed over Evanston’s No. 5, scored the first 5 points of Friday’s game – and mustered just 7 more points over the next 14 minutes on the game clock as Evanston’s defense dug in.
Junior Prince Adams came off the bench to score 6 points in a 10-0 second-quarter spurt by the hosts, who led 22-11 at halftime. Adams and Aidan Maher each scored 10 points for the Wildkits, backed up by Rashawn Bost with 9 and David Gieser with 8.
GBN, which split two regular-season games with Evanston, finished 23-8 on the year after shooting 32% (13-of-40) from the field.
“I’ve got to give our guys credit,” said Ellis. “They played with both passion and poise tonight. They were tough on the ball and tough off the ball on defense. You always have to be alert on defense against a team like GBN because they have a lot of weapons.
“Having their point guard in a sling [sophomore Josh Fridman, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the final minute of a win over Taft] was a big piece for them to miss. I think it forced them into a rotation they maybe don’t utilize that often.
“But our guys still had to play hard, and that’s what they did.”