Everybody’s scoring average took a hit on a chilly Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Jonah Ross (1) splits the New Trier defense and goes up for a bucket. Credit: Richard Cahan

That’s what happens when both basketball teams rise to the occasion and play man-to-man defense at an elite level as part of the rivalry matchup between Evanston and New Trier.

In a game where both sides struggled to score on consecutive possessions, New Trier used a 7-0 run in the third quarter to earn some separation on its way to a 42-36 trimming of Evanston in a Central Suburban League South division showdown at Northwestern University.

The victory upped New Trier’s record to 12-1 overall and 3-0 in league competition. Evanston fell to 8-3 and 1-2, respectively.

Evanston still leads the all-time series between the two neighbors with 122 wins to 98 for the Trevians.

In front of a crowd of 2,500 spectators, the two programs waged a defensive duel that would only have seemed high scoring back in the early days of the rivalry. Each team scored just five field goals in the second half and neither shot better than 40% for the game.

Malachi Barrett shoots from the corner. Credit: Richard Cahan

No one appreciates good defense more than Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. He called it his team’s best defensive performance of the season, but it wasn’t good enough to knock off the state-ranked Trevians.

New Trier was able to grind out the victory behind 12 points from Jake Fiegen and 11 from Ian Brown. Josh Thomas (11 points) and Brandon Watson (8) excelled at both ends of the floor for the Wildkits.

“It was a tightly contested game by both teams, and I think that’s a testament to just how badly each team wanted to win tonight,” Ellis said. “Both teams played extraordinary defense. New Trier is a tough team to cover because of their versatility and that’s the kind of team we want to be. But you’re not going to win a lot of games scoring 36 points.

“We had some good looks tonight, some [in] rhythm shots that didn’t go in,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making plays when they’re in front of us. New Trier’s defense resulted in some easy layups for them in transition, and even when we had minimum opportunities [in transition], we didn’t take advantage when we could have.

“But if someone said we could hold New Trier to 42 points every time we played them, I’d certainly sign up for that.”

Josh Thomas pops in a basket to the end the first quarter. Credit: Richard Cahan

Watson, a junior who may yet assume the “stopper” role in the backcourt for ETHS, came off the bench to keep Trevian point guard Evan Kanellos from penetrating the lane and kept the Kits in contention with 6 of his points in the third quarter.

And while Thomas may have transferred in from Stevenson hoping to boost his own scoring average in a new program, he reprised his role from his old school by using his 6-foot-6 height to limit the high-scoring Fiegen to just 3-of-11 shooting from the floor.

“Josh was outstanding for us on defense and he led us on offense. He was definitely the MVP for us tonight,” Ellis praised. “We didn’t switch up on defense or give him any help tonight [against Fiegen].

“That was the role he had at Stevenson. He can defend perimeter players, inside players, the other team’s point guard. He has the complete package on defense when it comes to defending the other team’s best players.”

A fast-break lay-in by Hunter Duncan pulled the Wildkits into a 24-24 deadlock early in the third period. But New Trier responded with that 7-0 run as Fiegen made a pair of free throws and tossed in a 3-pointer, and 6-11 Tyler Van Gorp banked in a 14-foot shot in the lane.

New Trier led 33-30 entering the fourth quarter. But, as Ellis pointed out, it was still a one-possession game at 35-34 when the game turned with less than 3 minutes to play.

Evanston’s Jonah Ross misfired on a 3-point attempt and Brown converted his chance from beyond the arc at the other end to make it 38-34. Evanston never got closer than 4 points after that, although the Trevians cooperated by missing 6 of their 10 free throw attempts in the last quarter.

“We missed a wide open 3 at that point, and Brown hit his from the corner,” Ellis said. “That was a 6-point swing in a 1-possession game.”

New Trier limited Prince Adams to a season-low two points and six field goal attempts. The Evanston senior did lead all rebounders with nine.

“New Trier did a good job of keying on Prince. The difference for Prince is that when he was a sophomore and junior there were only two eyes on him [from enemy defenders] and now there are always 10 eyes on him,” said Ellis. “He knows he’s going to be the focal point of other team’s defenses and he’s working on how to deal with that.

“New Trier switches everything and they don’t give you easy looks. And at times they were able to get second and third shots, and that hurt us. It’s only a matter of time before they convert if you give them second and third chances.”

Evanston will journey to downstate Illinois to take part in the annual Centralia Holiday Tournament next week.

The Wildkits open play at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday against Champaign Central and they’ll meet either Mount Vernon or Dyett in the second round. The tournament concludes on Dec. 30.

Leave a comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *