Malachi Barrett and Addison Blough haven’t had many opportunities to shoot free throws for Evanston Township High School’s basketball team this season, and muscle memory is a big part of the game for successful shooters.
But the two seniors made the most of their chances down the stretch Friday night as the Wildkits knocked Glenbrook North High School out of a tie for first place in the Central Suburban League South division with a 64-58 upset win.
All of those 7 a.m. practices at the charity stripe paid off as Barrett nailed his last three tries and also contributed a vital steal, while Blough tallied all five of his points in the fourth quarter to keep the Kits from blowing what was once a 17-point lead.
As a team, Evanston shot just 10-of-20 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter but found a way to hang on behind two unlikely heroes. Coach Mike Ellis’ squad improved to 17-6 on the season and 4-3 in league play, while the losers dropped to 21-3 and 5-2, one game behind New Trier High School.
Barrett, shooting 62% on the year, averages just about two free throw attempts per game in 20 starts for the Wildkits. And Blough? The team co-captain was only 4-of-5 on the year prior to Friday’s big win at Beardsley Gymnasium.
“Those two guys are always in here early in the morning when I’m doing the laundry at 7 a.m.,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis, “so they should feel comfortable and confident shooting in Beardsley. They’re out there every day.
“Yeah, we missed some free throws tonight (13-of-24 overall as a team). But I don’t remember us missing the front end (of a one-and-one bonus situation) and I don’t remember us going zero for two at any point, either. We never left without making at least one, and it might sound strange, but sometimes one make is really more valuable than it looks on the stat sheet.”
Glenbrook North trailed 50-33 after a roof-scraping fast-break dunk by Josh Thomas off a lob pass from Brandon Watson early in the fourth quarter. But the Spartans responded with a 10-0 run, then played out the rest of the game hacking away and hoping to capitalize on Evanston’s misfires with the clock stopped.
It worked – up until Blough and Barrett said enough was enough.
Barrett, who suffered a bloody lip early in the final period after a collision and had to switch jerseys from No. 20 to No. 24, only connected on one of his first five free throw tries in the fourth period. But he picked the dribble away from Glenbrook North guard Sam Lappin and swished a pair of free throws at the other end to provide a 63-58 advantage with 32 seconds left on the clock.
North passed up a wide-open layup attempt and missed three other shots on the next possession, and Jonah Ross of ETHS split a pair of free throws to seal the verdict.
Ross (16 points), Prince Adams (14 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocked shots) and Thomas (11 points, all in the second half) paced the Wildkits. GBN point guard Josh Fridman added to his reputation as the best player in the CSL South by splurging for a game-high 27 points, 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter comeback bid by the Spartans.
But the Wildkits limited Ryan Cohen to a mere seven points while 6-foot-7 Patrick Schaller didn’t score a single field goal after burning the Kits for 16 points in the first meeting between the two teams.
Evanston was nursing a one-possession lead when Barrett helped turn the tide with a timely steal.
“Brandon sent him my way – we’ve got that connection out on the court – and I got the steal,” Barrett said. “I think that’s our best win of the season. It’s been in the back of our heads since we lost to them (71-59 at GBN) and we took that very personal. We wanted to get them back.
“Tonight, we just had to lock in a little more at the free throw line. We ran a scenario yesterday in practice where we’re down 59-58 and the coaches said are you gonna win, are you gonna make free throws? I thought about that tonight and I knew everyone believed in me.”
The ETHS coaching staff decided to keep Blough on the floor for most of the second half and the senior who supplies leadership off the court contributed five points, including a three-of-four effort at the charity stripe.
“At halftime we were looking at the plus-minus stats and Addie was our leader. We were plus-12 (points) when he was on the floor,” Ellis pointed out.
“I was really happy with our decision making as a team tonight and I thought Addison was huge for us. He came in and settled us down when we were unsettled, and he gave us a really good floor game without trying to score 20 points himself.
“We made some important plays when we needed them and I thought we competed a lot better than in the first game against them.”
Evanston will host the annual War On The Shore triple header event on Saturday.
The shootout is sponsored by the Danny Did Foundation to raise money for epilepsy research. The event starts at 2 p.m. when New Trier High School plays DePaul College Prep, followed at 3:30 p.m. by Loyola Academy versus Bolingbrook High School and at 5 p.m. Evanston against Notre Dame College Prep.