Evanston’s basketball team endured the kind of cold spell Wednesday night that high school coaches stay up nights worrying about, especially in the one (loss)-and-done scenario that is the Illinois High School Association state playoffs.

But Mike Ellis probably slept pretty well despite the scoring drought.

The Evanston Township High School coach finally found some offense on the bench after the Wildkits went seven full minutes without a field goal in the third quarter of the matchup against the host team at the Class 4A Conant Regional tournament, and Evanston advanced to the regional title game with a 48-34 triumph.

Evanston’s Ephraim Chase is seen in Evanston’s 61-59 win over Glenbrook South on Dec. 2. Chase came off the bench to contribute 6 points in the final period of the Wildkits’ Feb. 22 win over Conant. Credit: Michael Kellams/thatphotodad.com

The No. 5-seeded Wildkits will take a 24-8 record into the 7 p.m. Friday championship contest against No. 4 Glenbrook South, which ousted Hoffman Estates 52-38 in Wednesday’s other semifinal game. The two Central Suburban League South division rivals split a pair of decisions during the regular season.

Playing extended minutes for the first time in about a month – he was sidelined by a high ankle sprain much of the time – senior Ephraim Chase came off the bench to contribute all 6 points and 4 rebounds in the final period and helped the Kits keep the Cougars at bay.

Evanston prevailed by flipping the script compared with what happened most of the regular season, when the Wildkits tended to start slow and built a reputation as a second half team. Instead, they poured in 30 points in the first half in a solid display of team basketball Wednesday.

On the night, no one from Evanston reached double figures. Jonah Ross and Brandon Watson each netted 9 points and Prince Adams added 8 points and 7 rebounds. Conant, which finished 14-14 on the year, received 12 points from Yusuf Cisse and 10 from Brad Biedke but only shot 31% (13 of 42) on their home floor.

Chase fell out of the regular rotation just prior to his injury, but responded in a big way when Ellis summoned him into the action late in the third quarter after Conant drew within two possessions at 32-26. The Cougars had trailed 30-16 at halftime.

Chase knocked down a short jumper in the paint, then fired in a 3-point basket after a feed from Hunter Duncan with 4 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the contest to give the winners the separation they needed to finally exhale. Evanston then converted 8 of 13 free throw opportunities, including four in a row by Watson, and pulled away for good.

Evanston’s Willie Wildkit is fired up at the Dec. 2 boys basketball game. The team faces Glenbrook South at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24. Credit: Michael Kellams/thatphotodad.com

“When you’re not putting the ball in the basket, like what happened in the third quarter, it’s almost like you’re playing defense against yourself,” said Ellis. “Ephraim really gave us a boost off the bench. He took care of the basketball, he made some key shots and he got some key rebounds. He really played well.

“Ephraim is someone who can put the ball in the basket and that’s just what we needed. That’s what we were missing in that third quarter. We gave him an opportunity tonight and he made the most of it.”

Evanston’s only bucket of the third quarter was a drive down the left side of the lane by Watson with just under a minute left in the period. But the Cougars couldn’t climb any nearer to the lead than a couple of possessions away because they only mustered 3 points themselves in the final 4:12 leading up to the fourth quarter.

Put another way, the Wildkits had scored almost enough points by halftime to have won the game no matter how they struggled in the last two quarters.

“Our No. 1 goal tonight was not to come out and have a slow start,” Ellis said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do that in the second half. But we were able to sustain that good start for the entire first half and that was really the difference in the game.

“The duration of our production in the first half was what did it tonight. That’s the best ball movement we’ve had in quite awhile, and you get solid [scoring] balance and take good shots whenever that happens. That’s the most unified basketball we’ve played in some time.”

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