Trailing by five points with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, Evanston’s basketball team appeared to force overtime with a remarkable comeback in the championship game of the 36th annual Beach Ball Classic tournament Saturday night in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
But David Beatty wouldn’t let that happen.
Beatty’s putback at the buzzer denied the Wildkits and lifted Imhotep Charter of Philadelphia to a thrilling 78-76 triumph in the tourney finale.
Evanston (13-2) settled for the second place trophy in its first trip to the nationally-renowned tournament despite placing four players in double figures, led by Nojel Eastern’s 28 points.
Ironically, Beatty was the player who fouled Eastern beyond the 3-point stripe with only 7 seconds on the clock and the Panthers on top by three points.
Eastern, who was selected to the all-tournament squad along with senior teammate Elyjah Williams, drained all 3 free throws, but it wasn’t enough.
As a team, the Wildkits missed 13 of their 29 free throw attempts and that was the first area ETHS head coach Mike Ellis pointed to when asked to sum up his team’s performance.
“Free throws, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “We worked on free throws for 20 of the 60 minutes we had at the shootaround today, and we shot them well on this same court.
“We got up on them 14-1 and I think we got too lax. We exhaled a little at that point, and I think that contributed to our lack of focus at the free throw line. We didn’t stay dialed in enough.
“We started out with the mentality that it would be a one possession game again tonight, and that it would be a fight all night. We lost that — but then we got it back.”
Eastern fired in 28 points despite missing 9 minutes with foul trouble. Malcolm Townsel added 16 points, Williams enjoyed a career effort with 14 points and 15 rebounds, and Chris Hamil totaled 13 points.
Daron Russell’s 25 points and 19 off the bench from Koby Thomas powered Imhotep, now 8-1.
“That’s a very well-balanced, well-coached team and they played with the discipline they needed to win this tournament,” Ellis praised. “My money is on them to win their state championship in Pennsylvania.”
Evanston’s blazing start on offense, especially from 3-point range, stunned the Panthers as the Kits connected on 4-of-6 from long distance for early leads of 16-1 and 21-5.
Imhotep, however, recovered to trail just 34-32 at halftime and went on to build a double digit lead of its own at 52-41 on a steal and lay-in by Beatty with 9 minutes left in the second half.
Eastern returned to the court after sitting down with his fourth personal foul and proved again that he was the best player in the tournament, despite missing out on the Most Valuable and Most Outstanding player awards doled out by the tournament committee.
He scored Evanston’s last 8 points, including a 25-foot jumper, and exceeded 20 points for the third game in a row.
Williams, the 6-foot-6 senior who missed all of last season and last summer with injuries, also broke loose in a big way on a big stage.
“Elyjah is a Division I basketball player and I hope people will start looking at what he can contribute to a (college) team,” said Ellis. “He can do things in volume even if he doesn’t lead in any one area in stats. We talk a lot about making multiple efforts, and he was the poster boy for that tonight. He was persistent and he was relentless. He just kept coming and coming.
“If we get better from this as a team, this isn’t a tough loss to take. A lot of good things happened tonight.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.