Even during their current five-game winning streak, Evanston Township High School’s basketball team has taken a while to find a rhythm in the first half of games.
No high school coach really wants his team to be known as a “second half” team. But ask Wildkit head coach Mike Ellis and he’ll tell you that clearly beats the alternative.
The Kits staggered past Maine South 42-26 Tuesday night in Park Ridge for their fifth straight win and 19th of the season. The winners outscored South 25-13 in the second half and kept their hopes alive to chase down front-runner New Trier in the Central Suburban League South division race.
Evanston would have to beat the Trevians when they host their rivals Friday at Beardsley Gymnasium, then hope that Glenbrook North knocks off New Trier in the finale. That scenario could create a three-way tie for the title if Evanston also handles Niles West in its last league game.
The conference race is really the last thing on the minds of Ellis and his players at this point. They’re searching for consistency as the regular season winds down and are hoping to use the home stretch as solid preparation for what will be the most loaded field in a Class 4A sectional tournament this postseason. At least six teams assigned to the New Trier Sectional, including the Kits, are likely to have 20 or more wins entering the state playoffs.
Tuesday night the Wildkits limited a Maine South team that is winless so far in league play to just 21% (10-of-47) shooting from the floor, including an abysmal 3-of-25 from 3-point range. In two games against Evanston this year, the Hawks shot a total 7-of-50 from behind the arc.
Evanston’s defense delivered on a night where the offense sputtered. No one reached double figures for the winners, who were led by Prince Adams with 9 points and 13 rebounds, and Hunter Duncan with 8 points. Morgan Brown tallied 7 points off the bench, all of them coming in the first quarter.
“We did give them a few open looks, but that isn’t a good shooting team,” Ellis said. “Did we just play well enough to win? I think that’s what it looked like to the untrained, and the trained, eye.
“We’ve had a lot of good first halves in games this year, even though we didn’t tonight. I’m not concerned that we’re trending in the wrong direction. I’d be more concerned if we were struggling in the second halves of these games. I thought our guys did a good job of taking ownership of the game [in the second half] and holding each other accountable. We played smarter on defense tonight – nothing was easy for Maine South – and we prevented any runs for them.
“I’m sure they felt they didn’t play their best, but they persevered through their frustration.”
Evanston (19-6 overall, 5-3 CSL South) turned the ball over on its first three possessions and things didn’t get much smoother for the visitors after that. Duncan’s 5 points in the second quarter were enough to provide a 17-13 halftime advantage but didn’t ease the concerns of the ETHS fans who made the trip to Park Ridge on a frigid January night.
Maine South, however, mustered just one basket – by Ryan Pothast – and one free throw – by Kaden Karstens – in the third period and trailed 31-16 after Adams scored in transition, Josh Thomas dunked off a pass from Duncan and Jonah Ross connected on a 3-point shot to close out the quarter.
The Hawks fell to 10-14 overall and 0-8 in the CSL South.