Relentless defense has always been a staple of the Evanston girls basketball program and new coach Brittanny Johnson certainly doesn’t want that to change.
But even Johnson had to admit that she never won a game as a college coach where her team went 11 straight minutes without a field goal like the Wildkits did Thursday night at the Schaumburg Thanksgiving Tournament.
Evanston squeezed out every ounce of its defensive energy to overcome a 7-point deficit in the fourth quarter, then outscored Saint Charles East 7-2 in overtime for a 35-30 triumph in the second round of the round-robin tourney.
The Wildkits improved to 2-0 and will face Stevenson at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Senior Leighah-Amori Wool broke loose for 9 of her game-high 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and sophomore SyAnn Holmes provided the pivotal defensive stop in a game that was dominated by both defenses.
St. Charles East (1-1) scored only two baskets in the entire first half, then limited the Kits to no buckets until Wool scored on a left-handed shot in the lane at the 4:58 mark of the fourth quarter. The Wildkits couldn’t solve the Saints’ extended 2-3 zone defense until they fell behind 28-21 early in the fourth period.
“We’re going to have to find ourselves on offense, but this is a very strong defensive team,” Johnson said. “Our defense has been our saving grace so far and I don’t think there’s a team in the state that defends better than we do.
“We missed a lot of layups and free throws tonight, but I think we’re taking steps in the right direction. When you have a team that fights like this, you don’t worry when you get behind like we did tonight.”
Evanston had a chance to win the game in regulation with 1.1 seconds remaining, but Allysah Boothe missed a bonus free throw attempt to send the game into overtime tied at 28-all. Boothe rebounded to score a fast-break layup that provided a 4-point advantage in the overtime, and also sank two free throws with 18.6 seconds to play to seal the victory.
Those free throws came after a stop by Holmes with the Wildkits nursing just a 3-point lead. She knocked the ball away from Saints’ post player Sara Rosenfeldt at the top of the key, and possession went back to ETHS on the ensuing jump ball call.
“I know I can go to the bench and they can make plays,” Johnson pointed out. “SyAnn’s play arguably won the game for us. She’s still working on some things, but she’s always ready and I know I can trust her to guard the other team’s best player. For a sophomore to have that role for us says a lot, and SyAnn never backs down.”
Besides Wool, no one scored more than 4 points for the winners. Samantha Munroe paced St. Charles East with 12 points.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.