The Evanston’s girls basketball scoreboard shows that it’s on a four-game losing streak – but with the vast differences in both how and who the Kits played in Evanston’s 54-46 loss to Benet, an asterisk is likely warranted.
(But on Wednesday, ETHS defeated Lincolnway Central 55-37. The RoundTable will have further coverage of this game in an upcoming story.)
Head coach Brittanny Johnson had to improvise more than ever to begin the 2022-23 season. Early in the season, fans focused on who was or wasn’t on the injury report. Now though, that focus shifts toward how a newly healthy Evanston team can get in sync and find its groove.
Evanston (5-8) was knocked into the consolation bracket of the second annual Morton College Christmas Tournament following its loss to Benet (10-2) Tuesday night.
Early in the third quarter, Benet jumped out to a 30-22 lead while Evanston looked timid on offense. The switch was then flipped as Zuri Ransom showed no hesitation and swerved around defenders to attack the rim, finishing through contact for a three-point play. Another bucket cut Evanston’s deficit to 3, but Benet closed the quarter on an 8-2 run.
The Kits clawed back, beginning the fourth quarter with a 7-2 run. Ciara Gentle notched a and-one of her own on a put-back, and after a few possessions and a Benet score, Ransom became assertive again, scoring twice in 15 seconds.
Outside of those two runs though, it was evident that Evanston is still figuring out how the team will gel – which makes a lot of sense given that Monday was the first and only practice of the year where every member of Johnson’s rotation was able to practice.
“We have a long way to go. Yesterday was our first full practice with everyone,” Johnson said. “They’ve got to be in sync [to win], and that’s only going to happen over time… hopefully we utilize this tournament, four straight days of the competition, as a way for us to do that.”
Returning starters Taija Banks and Sofia Rocca had their season debuts delayed while recovering from knee surgeries. Rocca started on Tuesday, which was her first game of the season. Banks, who came off the bench on Tuesday, returned to the court on Dec. 9.
Ransom has also been in and out of the lineup and has had tough luck with injuries over the last month. In the six games leading up to the Morton tournament, she missed the first two with a hamstring strain, returned for the next two, but suffered a concussion causing her to miss the last two.
Ransom led the Kits in scoring against Benet with 13, but it wasn’t enough to push them over the hump.
“I just felt like we were really tentative [on offense], especially when they were in zone. I was worried, because that’s all we see, when they were in [man-to-man] we were excited,” Johnson said.
Evanston eventually broke down the Benet zone with solid inside-out play, but whenever Johnson and the Kits adjusted, the Redwings made a move of their own, turning it into a 32-minute chess match.
“[Benet’s success] starts with coaching. They’ve had like the same staff since I’ve been here and I think that continuity just helps them to kind of bring out the best in players,” Johnson said. “Even when I was playing [Benet] really always had disciplined players. I think their discipline shown on the court is really hard to guard… and they always have five skill players on the court.”
And over the years that Johnson has been at ETHS she’s become known as the coach willing to put together a challenging schedule, leading to frequent meetings between the Wildkits and Redwings.
Most memorable was their February match-up in the inaugural E-Town Showdown, where Benet won 75-71 in double overtime in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The two met in the second round of the Morton tournament a year ago, and both were yearly members of Montini Catholic’s holiday tournament but made the shift to Morton last season. The switch occurred after tournament organizer and former Montini coach Jason Nichols was hired as women’s basketball coach and Athletic Director at Morton College.
The tournament has quickly become one of Illinois’ best, as this year’s group is an ensemble of powerhouses featuring four top-ten teams, Benet being one of them.
“Benet is a team I would have loved to play on maybe day two or three [of the tournament] Just to have some more time [for the team to adjust to the new lineup], but honestly, I’m happy about the way we competed for a majority of that game,” Johnson said.