The search for a team identity — while individual players are still struggling to establish themselves and earn varsity minutes — is still a work in progress for Evanston’s girls basketball team.
But after reminding all of her players that the identity she prefers starts with a D — as in defense — head coach Brittanny Johnson saw a different team Thursday night in the second round of the Schaumburg Thanksgiving Tournament.
The Wildkits turned up the defensive heat with man-to-man pressure and scored their first win of the season, harassing St. Charles East into 28 turnovers on their way to a 44-29 triumph and evening their record at 1-1.
ETHS held the Fighting Saints to just 3 points in the entire second half, a feat not even last year’s squad ever accomplished against any foe despite being regarded as one of the top defensive clubs in the state of Illinois. Thursday, the Kits took the fight out of the losers, now 1-1, and pitched a shutout over the last 10 and a half minutes of the contest.
Kayla Henning, SyAnn Holmes and TaMia Banks combined for 13 steals for the winners, who only mustered four points off of turnovers in a season-opening loss to Wheaton Warrenville South. The turnaround Thursday generated 13 points off St. Charles miscues, just in the first half.
“Our defense was definitely the difference tonight,” Johnson said. “St. Charles is a quality team and I really didn’t think they’d have that much trouble with our pressure. This is the first time I’ve smiled in the past 48 hours.
“Yesterday I challenged each and every one of them in practice. We’ll play a lot of teams like St. Charles, both in the conference and non-conference, and we have to use our athleticism to our advantage whenever we can. Last year’s team was not as athletic as this one. This game tonight shows the potential of what we can be. Our first six players can really pressure the ball and cover a lot of ground, and we were really in our element today.”
“Coach Johnson was really tough on all of us in practice yesterday,” said Henning, who netted a team-high 15 points to go with her 5 steals and 5 assists. “She really pushed us, and we needed to be pushed. We knew we really had to pick things up after the first game.
“Now, I think we’re all on the same page. Our practices will get better, our games will get better, and our mentality is already better.”
Trailing 24-22 midway through the second quarter, the Wildkits closed out the half with a 9-0 run with four different players contributing on offense. Delaney Brooks tossed in a 3-point basket, Elizabeth Ayeni scored off a feed from Henning, Banks earned a layup off a turnover, and Amaiya Johnson (7 points) drove for another score.
Evanston’s 31-26 edge at halftime was as close as it got. Henning’s two jumpers from the top of the key — one counting for 2 points and the other for 3 — were enough to outscore the Saints in the third period, and they never did dent the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
Evanston resumes action in the round-robin tournament at 10 a.m. Saturday against Stevenson.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.