After beating Lake Zurich in the IHSA Class 4A Hoffman Estates Supersectional round, the Evanston Township High School boys basketball team advanced to the State final tournament for the first time since the 2008 season.
On March 16 in the State semifinal game, the Kits took on defending Class 4AState champion Whitney Young and came up short, falling by a score of 62-56. The Kits held the lead for most of the game, as they led 15-12 after the first quarter and by as many as nine after senior Matt Hall’s basket with 3:19 remaining in the second made it a 23-14 game. The Kits led 27-20 at the intermission.
In the third quarter, Whitney Young battled back to within three at 41-38 after outscoring the Kits 18-14 in the quarter. The Dolphins would eventually take their first lead since late in the first quarter, when they scored with 6:10 remaining to make it a 42-41 game. From there, with the Dolphins ahead 49-47, freshman Blake Peters sank two free throws with 4:09 remaining to tie it at 49. But on the ensuing possession, the Dolphins delivered what unfortunately turned out to be the knockout punch with a three-pointer with 3:47 remaining. After that shot, the Kits were outscored 10-7 the rest of the way.
Leading the way for the Kits was Blake, who tallied a team-high 23 points, including five three-pointers, three of which came in the third quarter. In addition, junior Lance Jones and Matt each scored 10 points apiece, while junior Jaheim Holden chipped in eight points. With the loss, the Kits’ overall record fell to 26-6, which put them in the third-place game against Larkin on March 17.
Fortunately, the Kits were able to bounce back and beat Larkin by a score of 61-49 to capture the third-place trophy. In that game, after playing to a 32-27 lead with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, the Kits went on a 12-2 run to extend their lead to 45-29 through three stanzas. From there, the Kits were able to hold off the Royals to secure the victory, despite being outscored by a 20-16 tally in the fourth quarter.
With the victory, the Kits finished 27-6 overall, their third-place finish matching the finish of the 2008 team, who also took third in the State. “I thought our guys did a nice job of coming back from a difficult loss in the first final four game with Whitney Young,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “They played really well, they played focused, and that is kind of what we have seen from this group all season. They are playing the games for the right reasons, and I thought that showed a lot in the third-place game.”
Against Larkin, Matt finished his high school career in a big way, scoring a career-high 14 points while grabbing 16 rebounds. Regarding his performance, Coach Ellis said, “Matt had a terrific weekend. He had two double-double games in the State tournament back-to-back. For Matt to be rewarded like that, having been in our Varsity program for four years, he deserves all that success, so we are very happy for Matt.”
Overall, Coach Ellis was very pleased with how his team performed throughout the season, despite only having three seniors on the roster. “It was a very successful season for the group of guys we had. We started out predicted as a fourth-place team in [the Central Suburban League South] Conference. [The Kits actually won a share of the CSL South Conference title].Our guys really did a great job of staying in the moment, being concerned with what is inside the walls of our locker room, our team, our teammates, and our game plans.” The Coach added, “I thought for a younger group of guys, it was tremendous focus all year long not to listen to outside noise, and I think that is a major part of their success this season.”