One of the state of Illinois’ best man-to-man defensive teams can also play a pretty fair zone, too.
That’s the statement made by Evanston’s basketball team Thursday night in a rare road victory at Maine South in Central Suburban League South division play.
With a combination of man-to-man defense and a 2-3 zone, coach Mike Ellis’ squad held the host Hawks to just 11 points in the second half and scored a 48-37 triumph to complete the first round of league play with a perfect 5-0 record.
It marked only the second time in Ellis’ coaching tenure at ETHS that the Kits have earned a victory AT Maine South. Evanston, ranked 19th in the nation by MaxPreps and 2nd in the state of Illinois in the most recent Associated Press Class 4A poll, improved to 15-2 on the season overall.
The defense bailed out the Wildkits on a night where they shot just 40 percent (17-of-42) from the field. Leading scorer Nojel Eastern played only 5 minutes in the first half, due to two quick personal fouls, and finished with just 6 points. Chris Hamil netted all 13 of his game-high points in the first half, while Jaheim Holden added 12 points and 3 steals and Elyjah Williams contributed 10 points for the winners.
Maine South, which led 26-23 at halftime, was paced by Essam Hamwi with 10 points. The Hawks committed a total of 25 turnovers, including 7 in the third quarter when the Wildkits turned up the defensive heat even though they played mostly zone.
Double-team pressure against South’s guards held the hosts scoreless for the first seven minutes while ETHS racked up 16 consecutive points and pulled away to a 41-28 advantage after three periods.
“That third quarter was definitely the difference in the game,” said Ellis. “We didn’t want to begin the second half the way we started the first half, because we knew it would be a steep challenge if that happened. It was already do-or-die time for us, and I was proud of them for going out there with that mentality.
“In that third quarter we started to get into a groove with that 2-3 zone, and it was a feel thing, so we stayed with it. It’s good to have options like that. We played zone all week in practice because of Maine South’s matchup zone, so it wasn’t really much of an adjustment.
“We played smarter in the second half when we mixed up our defenses. Maine South is a very tough team to play at home, because of the pace and their style of play. When you come to Maine South, it’s always a grind. They don’t beat themselves, and if you don’t bring your A game, your B game isn’t good enough.”
Hamil’s hot hand in the first half found the rangy senior sharpshooter connecting on 4-of-5 attempts from 3-point range. That was a welcome sign for Hamil, who shot just 4-for-his-last-21 from beyond the 3-point arc in Evanston’s last 5 games.
ETHS outscored South (9-7, 2-2) 18-2 in the third stanza behind 6 points from Eastern and 5 from Lance Jones. The losers did manage to cut into Evanston’s lead and whittled the margin down to 43-37 with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left on a rebound basket by Ryan Coffey, but never scored again.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.