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It’s not very often that Mike Ellis asks one of his basketball teams to play a switching man-to-man defense. The root of the Evanston coach’s defensive philosophy is that you don’t leave the man you’re guarding — ever.

Yet a switch in tactics was called for Wednesday night in a matchup against a Highland Park team that favors the 3-point shot, and the Wildkits responded with a 58-44 victory in the third round of the Saint Viator Thanksgiving Tournament and remained undefeated on the season.

Highland Park, which didn’t start a player taller than 6 feet, 2 inches, only mustered a combined 4 field goals in the second and third quarters and couldn’t cope with Evanston’s change in strategy. Sophomore guards Lance Jones, Jaheim Holden and Ryan Bost were each credited with 3 steals for the winners and senior forward Elyjah Williams scored a career-high 15 points.

Evanston’s defensive anchor is Williams, a 6-foot-6 big man with the quickness to range 20 feet from the basket to stick with an offensive player. Now that he’s back after missing almost all of last season with a broken foot, the Wildkits have more options on defense.

“That just shows the versatility of Elyjah and our other big guys because they can get out and defend against guards,” Ellis said. “And all 3 of those sophomores are good on-the-ball defenders, too.

“We had to keep Highland Park off the 3-point line tonight, and even though they were able to get to the rim a few times against us in the first quarter, I thought they did a good job of switching tonight. We haven’t had a team do that the last couple of years, and it’s something we haven’t done in practice yet, either. This game turned into a switching, man-to-man defensive drill for us. We just had to keep Highland Park from getting any momentum at that 3-point line.”

The Giants only shot 2-of-7 from 3-point range and committed 16 turnovers once ETHS got on track defensively.

“My job is to be the defensive anchor, set hard ball screens and to do whatever the team needs me to do at the moment,” said Williams, who converted 7-of-12 field goal attempts. “I was looking to score more in the low post tonight because I knew I’d be the biggest guy out there on the court. I am disappointed that I left some stuff out there (in the form of missed layups), but I’m happy that my teammates kept looking for me and trusted me.

“I thought as a team we handled the switching defense pretty well starting in that second quarter. You just have to communicate more and talk a lot. You have to play the team game, and switch if you need to.”

Chris Hamil tossed in 12 points for ETHS, including 3-of-5 marksmanship from 3-point range, and Nojel Eastern contributed 9 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists. The Wildkits shot exactly 50 percent (24-of-48) from the field.

Evanston resumes tournament play at 5 p.m. Friday against unbeaten Conant.

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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