Run-and-gun basketball may not be fun to watch for purists who love the high school game. But it’s a formula that has worked, for the most part, over the past decade at Niles North.
But Evanston beat the Vikings at their own game Tuesday night in Skokie.
The Wildkits piled up transition point after transition point in a 79-53 pasting of Central Suburban League North division leader Niles North.
Taking a page out of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s book – be quick, but don’t be in a hurry – the Kits ran to a season-high point total and pushed their season record to 14-4 on the year. North dropped to 13-4 after losing the battle of neighborhood rivals.
Evanston capitalized on the fact that the Vikings, as is typical of their style of play, aren’t always in a rush to get back on defense. Senior Prince Adams ran the floor on his way to a game-high 24 points, along with 13 rebounds and six blocked shots, and was joined in double figures by teammates Malachi Barrett (13 points), Brandon Watson (10 points) and Hunter Duncan (10 points, six assists).
Duncan also delivered another sterling defensive performance, and it’s getting to be a habit for the transfer from Saint Viator. He was most responsible for limiting North sophomore Yaris Irby, who played at ETHS as a freshman, to a woeful 5-of-23 shooting performance and seven turnovers.
Evanston head coach Mike Ellis knows that fighting fire with fire, or in this case pressure with pressure, is the best way to gain the upper hand against teams that play like the Vikings. And he’s never held the Wildkits back as far as playing an up-tempo game, either.
“It was good to see the way our guys kept their foot on the pedal,” Ellis said. “Tonight we wanted to take the pressure to them. Any time you play a hard-nosed pressure team like that, if you back up against it you’ll lose. Pressure is the only way to beat pressure.
“After the first quarter our guys understood that they didn’t have to be in so much of a hurry, they just had to play a little smarter. We were really productive in our open floor basketball because we took care of their pressure and scored off of it.
“We played really hard and we played really smart. Most of our games this year I’ve only been able to say that we played hard, OR that we played smart. Tonight we played equally hard and smart and we valued the basketball. I actually prefer to play up-tempo, as long as we’re taking good shots, then I’m good with that. The best teams don’t just have one style, they have to execute full-court and in the half-court, and we’re able to do both.”
Evanston’s explosiveness came to the fore in the last two minutes of the first half, after the hosts had whittled the deficit down to 30-21 when Irby rattled in a 3-point basket after missing his first seven shots from the field. But after a timeout, the Kits erupted for 11 quick points – with Watson and Adams both knocking down 3-point shots – and cruised to a 41-23 halftime advantage.
Adams added nine more points in the third period, including a pair of dunks that helped boost the lead to 59-36.
Evanston shot 47% overall from the field (29-of-62) compared with 34% for the
Vikings (21-of-61). North entered the contest averaging over 67 points per game but never could get untracked, especially with Duncan doing his best to silence Irby’s offense. Next best for the Vikings was Hunter Gawon with nine points.
Duncan actually played alongside Irby this summer before Irby decided to change schools and utilized that knowledge to Evanston’s benefit Tuesday.
“I think Hunter knows Yaris’ game,” Ellis said. “After all, Yaris played with us in the
summer and I think he has experience playing against him too. He understood that Yaris was looking for Hunter to over-pursue against him so he could take advantage of angles. But Hunter played solid, fundamental defense tonight.
“Doing that is a challenge for Hunter because when you’re younger, and you’re more athletic and explosive than the guys you’re playing against, you can get away with just doing that. But when you get older and come up against state-ranked teams and their players as the talent level rises, then the fundamentals matter even more. You just can’t say, ‘I’m going to win with talent.’ You have to play with structure, and that’s a lesson he’s learning.
“Niles North is a young team and they were missing at least one of their top players tonight. They’re going to get better by the end of the season. Our guys knew they had to be ready to play tonight, because this game brought out Evanston people on both sides, and it’s a credit to them for coming out with their A-game.”