The crowd at Beardsley Gymnasium didn’t have much to cheer about over the first three quarters of Evanston Township High School’s final home basketball game of the season Friday night.
But a buzz of sorts started when the home team finally cut its deficit down to 38-31 against Lake Forest High School with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
That buzz didn’t last long.
Lake Forest star Asa Thomas supplied the ultimate silencer by nailing three consecutive 3-point baskets and the Scouts defeated the Wildkits for the second year in a row.
The 51-39 loss included 27 points by the Clemson University-bound Thomas – one of the best individual efforts against Evanston this season – and featured a flat performance by the host team in the final tune-up for the Class 4A regional tournament set for next week at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates. Evanston will take a 23-8 record into postseason play on Wednesday against the host team.
Lake Forest, a No. 1 seed in its own Class 3A sectional, improved to 20-10 and has had the Kits’ number in back-to-back meetings between the two North Shore schools.
The losers never really could find any answers on offense after falling behind 17-4 in the first quarter. Prince Adams led ETHS with 10 points, but was one of the five starters benched by head coach Mike Ellis in the first quarter in what has become an almost common move for a team plagued by slow starts.
Ellis has yanked his starters early in games at least half a dozen times so far this season, a tactic you wouldn’t think was necessary for a team that has won almost two dozen games to date.
But the Kits didn’t get anything done on either end of the floor in the first quarter. Evanston’s bench did clamp down defensively on every Scouts’ player with the exception of the 6-foot-8 Thomas, yet couldn’t do anything but play Lake Forest even while shooting just 43% (16-of-37) from the field.
“We didn’t come ready to play tonight, that’s pretty evident,” Ellis said. “We had to put in a whole new group of guys to try to change the way the game was going, but it’s not gonna happen when you’re not productive on offense.
“Lake Forest is a No. 1 sectional seed and you can’t take a team like that lightly. Number one, you have to respect the game, and number two, you have to respect the opponent, and we didn’t do either one.
“It was the last chance for the seniors to defend their home court, and it’s pretty frustrating when you see another team come in and play you like it’s their home gym. It wasn’t [lack of] effort, but we couldn’t get any results. We couldn’t get any runs going because we couldn’t see the ball go through the basket.”
The Kits’ Jonah Ross tossed in all nine of his points in the third quarter, enough to build hope in the stands that an Evanston comeback was imminent in the fourth quarter. And a pair of buckets inside by Adams that made it 38-31 early in the final period had the Scouts on edge.
That’s when they turned to Thomas and the 6-8 senior responded the way a Division I player should.
With Evanston’s best defender, Josh Thomas, in his face, Asa Thomas buried a couple of 3-point shots. And when Thomas was late arriving finally on the perimeter on defense, Asa fired in a 22-foot attempt as the Scouts pulled away for good.
“He’s a Division I player and we’re not the only team he’s scored 27 on this year,” noted Ellis. “I thought Josh was right on him for the first couple he made. It comes down to putting the ball in the basket, and that’s what he did. It was our inability to make plays and finish plays off that hurt us.”