A signature victory against a state-ranked team is just what Evanston Township High School’s girls basketball squad needed with one week to go before coaches cast their votes for sectional tournament seeding.
But after throwing a scare into the state’s No. 6 team in Class 2A, Butler College Prep High School of Chicago, the Wildkits fell short in a fourth-quarter comeback effort Wednesday night at Beardsley Gymnasium.
Evanston whittled a 10-point deficit down to just two with 22 seconds remaining before the Lady Lynx converted five free throws in the last 10 seconds of an eventual 56-49 triumph.
The visitors, who brought about three dozen spectators and cheerleaders with them from the south side of the city, earned payback for last year’s loss to the Kits and a rivalry could be developing between the two programs despite the difference in distance and enrollment.
Wednesday’s matchup was a chess match between two strong defensive units and the atmosphere was electric.
And if this really does become a rivalry, Evanston will see plenty from the daughters of Butler head coach Xaver Walton in the future. Junior Xamiya Walton and freshman Xyanna Walton combined for 39 points Wednesday as the Lady Lynx moved to 22-6 on the season.
Xyanna (game-high 23 points) shot the visitors into an early lead, with a trio of 3-point baskets from 25 feet away, and older sister Xamiya (16) added the finishing touch with seven points in the final period, including a 5-of-6 effort at the free throw line.
Evanston, now 9-12, was paced by junior Zuri Ransom’s 16 points and seven rebounds, plus 14 points and seven rebounds from junior Kailey Starks.
But the hosts didn’t score a field goal in the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter and couldn’t quite pull off the comeback.
“It’s fun to go up against them and I think Butler enjoys coming up here. I thought the atmosphere was electric tonight,” agreed ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson.
“It was so loud with the fans they brought, and I thought that was good for our girls. We’re always talking with them about communicating better and I actually loved the fact that they couldn’t always hear each other out there tonight.
“It could have benefited us seed-wise if we won, but this really doesn’t feel like a loss to me. I think we learned a lot from this game, and there were more positives than negatives. We just had that bad stretch in the fourth quarter. This is still the type of game you want to play leading up to the (state) playoffs.”
Butler’s matchup zone defense limited the hosts to 36% (21-of-58) shooting from the field. Evanston played more zone than usual, a 1-2-2, and forced the winners into 22 turnovers to stay within striking distance even though the only Kits lead of the night was at 2-0 on Arianna Milam-Pryor’s jumper from the free throw line.
Butler led 40-35 after three quarters and was still in a comfort zone up 50-39 with two minutes remaining after Xyanna Walton went the length of the court for a layup following an ETHS turnover, one of four in the final period.
But the Wildkits didn’t quit. After a couple of free throws, Ransom converted a rare four-point play with a 3-point shot from the corner and a free throw with 71 seconds left on the clock.
Sofia Rocca drew a charge at the other end, and when Ransom nailed a 15-footer with 56 seconds remaining, the hosts had clawed their way back to within four, 51-47. The older Walton sister split a pair of free throws, and Starks answered with a layup off baseline penetration by Taija Banks to make it 51-49 with 22 seconds left.
Evanston couldn’t get any closer, however, with the Lady Lynx converting five of six charity tosses down the stretch.
“Their matchup zone really confused us at times,” Johnson explained, “and we didn’t finish out the game very well either. We’re still not playing like a cohesive unit and we had turnovers because we tried to force the issue too much.
“Set plays won’t save you against that matchup zone they play because there are no rules. You expect them to make a certain rotation out of that 2-3, but they don’t do it. That wasn’t happening. You just have to go out and play against them and you need shot creators to do that.”
Evanston will try to get back on the winning track on Friday at Glenbrook North High School, and is also on the road Saturday against Warren.