A panoramic view of Beardsley Gym on Friday, Feb. 3 as the ETHS Wildkits boys basketball team takes on New Trier. Credit: ETHS Athletics Twitter

It’s always difficult to find a good shot against one of the toughest defensive basketball teams in the entire state of Illinois.

That’s a scenario that played out right to the end of the Evanston-New Trier rivalry contest Friday night at Beardsley Gymnasium in front of a capacity crowd.

Given an opening for an upset when the Trevians missed eight free throws in the fourth quarter, the host Wildkits couldn’t take advantage as Hunter Duncan launched a 3-point attempt that banged off the backboard at the buzzer of a 57-55 defeat.

New Trier’s Evan Kanellos is guarded by Evanston’s Josh Thomas Friday at Beardsley Gym. Credit: New Trier Athletics

That wasn’t the play that Evanston Township High School head coach Mike Ellis had designed in a sideline huddle after gaining possession in the final seconds. Duncan dribbled out the last 10 seconds at the top of the key before misfiring – never appearing to look for a pass – as New Trier clinched at least a tie for the Central Suburban League South division championship.

The loss in the 11th annual Bost Family Classic event, which honors the late former assistant coach and his family, dropped Evanston to 19-7 on the season, 5-4 in league play. New Trier, which clanked a total of 13 free throws on the night, moved to 24-4 and 8-1 while sweeping the regular season series between the two rivals for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

Ellis opted to play to win after New Trier junior Logan Feller bounced back-to-back free throws off the iron with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.

“I couldn’t count on them missing any more free throws if we went to overtime,” said the Wildkit coach. “We were going for the win and I wanted Jonah Ross to shoot a 3. But it didn’t develop that way. We had a 21% 3-point shooter take it instead of our 42% 3-point shooter.”

New Trier’s Evan Kanellos goes up against Evanston’s Hunter Duncan during the Friday, Feb. 3 matchup Credit: New Trier Athletics

Duncan’s bid to take the hero’s role saw the senior guard score 10 of his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter comeback effort. On the next-to-last Evanston possession, he banked in a 3-point shot to pull the Wildkits to within 57-55 with 24 ticks left on the clock.

Prince Adams scored 9 points and grabbed 12 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Brandon Watson added 9 points and Ross contributed 8 for the losers.

New Trier’s Jake Fiegen netted 18 points and Feller tallied 13, but it was the defense that stood out for the Trevians, even though they surrendered 24 points in the final period.

New Trier’s man-to-man defense was so solid that the Trevs never even had to resort to their other main defensive alignment, a 1-3-1 zone. They limited the Kits to 9-of-27 shooting from the field (33%) over the first three quarters, and never trailed after tallying the first 10 points of the contest.

The visitors also received a boost with a 6-point possession – a 3-point bucket by Feller, a simultaneous Evanston foul, and another trey from Ian Brown – to get just enough separation early in the fourth quarter.

“With their length and quickness and smarts on defense, it’s hard to find any mismatches or breakdowns,” Ellis said. “That’s one of the best defenses we play against. We didn’t get as many easy shots as they did tonight. They out-rebounded us, they out-shot us, they got every 50-50 ball and we had more turnovers than they did. You can’t win a game like that.

“I don’t think any team can keep us from scoring for [a full] 32 minutes, though. We have too many good players on this team. Eventually, we’ll break loose. But good shots are hard to come by against them. We didn’t get anything in transition against them, and you have to rely on your half-court game, you’re up against a steep challenge.”

Evanston faces another challenge at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the third annual E-Town Showdown. The Wildkits will take on defending Class 4A state champion Glenbard West in the final game of a tripleheader at Northwestern University.

Glenbrook South tackles Downers Grove North in the first game at 3:30 p.m. and Evanston’s girls squad is matched against Hersey in the second game.

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  1. As a resident born and raised in Evanston I have attended tons of E-Town games over my lifetime. I have to say it was a heart breaking end to a hard fought game by the Wildkits. But now, what seems even more disappointing is how the varsity coach is totally okay with putting his players under the bus in this and subsequent articles I’ve read from you Dennis. I don’t have a kid at this school but if my daughter wanted to play for ETHS and this coach, I would look at how he uses the media to lash out at his players as a major red flag.