How good was Malcolm Townsel’s all-around game Friday night?
The Evanston Township senior basketball standout even did the best job of cutting down the nets in the post-game celebration for the Wildkits Friday night at the Class 4A Niles West Regional championship game.
Townsel sparked another top-of-the-line defensive performance by the Wildkits as they dumped Deerfield 59-42 and earned their fourth Illinois High School Association regional title in a row. Evanston, now 26-3 overall, will play Loyola Academy on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Waukegan Sectional semifinals.
Winner of that game will meet either No. 2 seed Niles Notre Dame or No.6 seed Waukegan for the championship.
Townsel proved he learned a defensive lesson in the nine days since the Wildkits whipped Deerfield at the Central Suburban League Showcase game. In that one-sided win he was among the ETHS defenders who surrendered 15 points to Alex Casieri, and he made the most of his second chance Friday night against the Warrior senior.
Casieri could hardly even get a shot off in the first three quarters, mustering only 2 points (on 1-of-6 shooting) before tossing in a pair of 3-point baskets in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
Chris Hamil (18 points), Nojel Eastern (12 points), Townsel (12 points) and Elyjah Williams (10 points, 9 rebounds) led a balanced attack for Evanston.
Townsel wasn’t the only one who played suffocating defense. The winners limited CSL North champion Deerfield (18-12) to 32 percent shooting from the floor and forced 16 turnovers with the kind of in-your-face, on-the-ball defense that has been their staple since they flipped the calendar to the year 2017.
In early January the Kits collectively took a hard look at the way they were playing team defense, and quickly got back on the same page. They haven’t lost since then.
“Defense was definitely the difference tonight,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “We didn’t want to let them get on a run with made 3s (3-point baskets) and get some excitement going. We really stepped up on defense in the second half. It helps when you have seniors who don’t want their careers to end.
“In practice I posed the question to Malcolm, in front of his teammates, do you want him (Casieri) again? And he said he wanted to check him again. He’s such a high character guy and it was good to see him lead us with that kind of mentality. He didn’t want to let his 14 teammates down.
“He’s a competitor and he does so much at both ends of the floor for us. This time of year (postseason play) is about taking on challenges, and he set the tone for us tonight.”
The transfer from Whitney Young didn’t get a chance to participate in a net-cutting ceremony last year, even though the Dolphins did win a regional crown, and he was just as adept with the scissors as he was checking Casieri.
“We pride ourselves on our defense and on keeping people under 50 points,” Townsel pointed out, “because we figure we can always score more than that.
“Having covered their best guy before, I used that to my advantage this time. I stayed in front of him and tried to wall him off if he got past me, and I used my length against his (attempted) crossovers, instead of laying back and waiting for him.”
Deerfield had nowhere to turn on offense with Casieri covered, and the Warriors fell behind 13-11 after the first quarter and trailed 24-15 at halftime. It never got closer than that as Hamil drilled in 6-of-7 from 3-point range and boosted his season percentage from beyond 20 feet to a sizzling 46 percent . He’s just one triple shy of matching the single season school record of 66 set by Josh Irving in 2011-12.
“It’s a good feeling to win the regional, but we’re not satisfied yet,” Hamil said. “We have a bigger goal, to get Downstate.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.