Evanston’s basketball fans haven’t seen this kind of 3-point shooting since the program’s last run to the Final Four back in 2018-19.
But this time the Wildkits were on the wrong end of a torrid shooting display that harkened back to the prime time performances of players like Blake Peters, Jaheim Holden, Lance Jones and Ryan Bost.
State-ranked Rolling Meadows High School couldn’t miss from beyond the 3-point arc – sometimes several feet beyond that arc – and shot down the Wildkits 82-46 in a slaughter-rule contest where a running clock was in effect for the entire fourth quarter.
Evanston’s defense, burned by enemy layups the night before in a loss at Glenbrook South High School, endured more frustration from much farther out Saturday as the Mustangs converted a sizzling 16-of-27 attempts from 3-point range.
Hunter Duncan led Evanston’s meager offense with nine points, five assists, two blocked shots and two steals. No one else scored more than five points for the visitors.
University of Minnesota recruit Cameron Christie fired in a game-high 30 points, including five 3-pointers, and four of his Mustang teammates also got in on the 3-point fun at Evanston’s expense as the visitors tumbled to their second straight loss and dipped to 14-6 on the season.
Rolling Meadows, ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press Class 4A state poll, improved to 19-2. One of those losses came against New Trier High School, and the two programs will likely rank 1-2 when the sectional seeding is voted on by coaches competing in the 4A New Trier Sectional tournament.
One consolation for Wildkit fans and head coach Mike Ellis is that the Mustangs can’t possibly shoot that well again if there’s a postseason rematch – or can they?
Mention of the 2018-19 campaign lightened the mood somewhat for Ellis, who was missing three of his squad’s top six players on Saturday and couldn’t match the firepower Rolling Meadows put on display.
“That’s what we looked like when we played Rockford East [and tied a 4A state finals record with 12 treys in a 94-82 semifinal victory]. We must have been pretty good,” Ellis mused.
“We didn’t give up layups tonight, like we did last night, but they shot threes like they were layups. We didn’t have the fortitude [on defense] to take them out of their comfort zone. They didn’t force any shots because they didn’t have to. They shared the basketball and when you do that, the ball finds the right guys.
“Rolling Meadows is good. They’re state-ranked for a reason.”
Christie, whose older brother Max is a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers after playing at Michigan State University, sank more than one 3-pointer from close to NBA range himself on Saturday. He caught fire right from the start, tossing in 10 points in the first quarter, as the hosts outscored Evanston 22-11.
Meadows kept up the torrid pace en route to a 42-21 halftime advantage and only slightly cooled off in the second half. The winners finished the game with a shooting percentage of 60% (30-of-50) as Mark Nikolich-Wilson (17 points) and Tsvet Sotirov (14) also reached double figures.
But ETHS fans did get a possible glimpse of the program’s future when sophomores Theo Rocca and Ian Peters made their varsity debuts in the second half, after earlier leading the soph squad to a 75-54 romp over the Mustangs.
Rocca, inserted into the varsity contest midway through the third quarter, sank a couple of field goals although he did miss all four attempts from 3-point range. Peters, the younger brother of the program’s all-time leading scorer, only played a few minutes due to the running clock in the fourth quarter and scored one bucket.
Both players are still shaking off the competitive rust after dealing with injuries in the first half of the season, but have already flashed high basketball IQs with a knack for being in the right place at the right time on the court.
“I thought both Theo and Ian played solid tonight, and I’m happy they got the opportunity to play and get their first varsity experience,” said Ellis. “It’s all about feeling comfortable playing at a higher level for both of them. Theo’s had a concussion and back and knee problems that have kept him out. We know we haven’t seen the real Theo for the past two and a half months.
“I always say that January tells you who you are [as a team] and now we have a couple of weeks left to make something of ourselves.”