After finishing the regular season with an eight-game winning streak, the Evanston Township High School boys basketball team hoped to keep the streak alive when they began postseason play. The Wildkits did just that.
Making it nine in row, they beat Elk Grove 67-52 on Feb. 26 in the IHSA Class 4A Evanston Regional semifinals. Senior Lance Jones led the Kits’ scoring attack with 14 points in the victory. With the win, the top-seeded Kits in the Niles North Sectional field improved to 27-4 overall and earned a chance to play for the Regional title against Notre Dame on March 1 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston.
Against the Dons, the Kits prevailed 80-68. The Kits certainly had their hands full in the first half as neither team led by more than two points. But the Kits held a 26-25 lead at the half. In the third quarter they outscored the Dons 27-13, thanks in good part to Lance as well as sophomores Jaylin Gibson and Blake Peters, who combined for 21 points, as the Kits took a 53-38 lead heading into the final stanza.
The Dons went on a 9-3 run to open the fourth quarter and make it a 56-47 game with 5:43 remaining. But Lance and senior Jaheim Holden combined for 17 points over the remainder of the quarter to help the Kits close out the 80-68 victory.
With the win, the Kits improved to 28-4 overall and captured the Evanston Regional title. Against the Dons, Lance once again led the team’s scoring attack with 25 points, while Jaheim poured in 21. In addition, Blake added 17 points and Jaylin finished with 13 points.
“I thought we played solid for most of the game on both ends of the floor,” said head coach Mike Ellis. “Our pressure caused some problems out in the front of our defense. You have to give we have do a lot for us on both ends of the floor. So I’m happy for those guys for winning their final game on their home floor.”
Noting his team’s ability to pull ahead early in the second half, Coach Ellis said, “We had to come out and play better [in the second half]. Our mission was to come out in the second half and play better than we did in the first half and I thought we did that. We played hard on defense and smart on offense and that is a good combination.”
That combination earned them a Regional title, which pleased Coach Ellis, but he indicated the Kits have work to do if they want to advance in the Sectionals and beyond. “It is step one,” said the Coach, regarding winning the Regional. “Now we are facing a Glenbrook South team that beat us to start the year in [Central Suburban League South] Conference play [a 61-54 defeat on Nov. 29]. So we need to show up focused and ready to play. This time of year, we are just looking to play better each time out.”
When asked what the keys to success will be in the Sectionals, the Coach said simply, “Play better. That’s going to be the key going forward. We can’t look backward, we have to learn where our deficiencies are and then just improve those performances.”
On March 5, the Kits beat Glenbrook South, 68-60, in the semifinals of the Niles North Sectional tournament. Lance and Jaheim each scored 18 points. The Kits, with an overall record of 29-4, will take on the winner of the Schaumburg/Loyola Academy game for the Sectional championship.