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Eastern leads Wildkits to 2nd straight conference crown

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Evanston’s basketball team has owned the fourth quarter in almost every Central Suburban League South division game this season.

The Wildkits did it again Friday night — and made some history, too.

With junior guard Nojel Eastern showing the way, the Kits dumped New Trier 53-39 on the road at Gates Gym and nailed down their second straight CSL South division championship. It’s the first time Evanston (20-2, 8-0) has won consecutive league crowns since the 2001-02 seasons and only the sixth time in school history that they’ve achieved that feat.

The record book shows that Evanston won back-to-back titles in 1933-34, 1998-99 and 2001-02 while registering a pair of three-peats in the 1980s (1984-85-86 and 1988-89-90).

Eastern tossed in a team-high 25 points with an assistant coach from UCLA on hand to watch him in action. The 6-foot-6 junior defeated New Trier’s box-and-1 tactics on defense with 8 points in the fourth quarter, when the Wildkits outscored the losers 22-9.

For the game, he converted 5-of-6 shots from 3-point range. He also led the Kits with 9 rebounds and added 3 assists and 2 steals.

“When Nojel gets into a rhythm like that, it’s almost like he’s impossible to stop,” said ETHS coach Mike Ellis. “Ironically, he had the most success when New Trier went to that box-and-1. You have to be prepared for a variety of defenses when you play against New Trier, and I thought our guys executed extremely well against it. It’s really a credit to the way his teammates found him tonight.”

“It’s always a great battle when you get a chance to continue this rivalry,” Eastern pointed out. “Our main goal tonight was to hold them under 50 points, and we did that. I’ve been working on my shot a lot, and when I was open I just got it up. In the first half I couldn’t even get a layup to go in. In the second half I got that first 3 — took another — and just kept going.

“We have a great coach in Coach Ellis and we prepared for that box-and-1 the whole week in practice. Playing against it, you have to be a great off-the-ball player and keep moving.”

After struggling to a 31-28 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Kits started to click on offense, scoring on their first four possessions of the period. Dylan Mulvihill (12 points, 5 rebounds) started the surge with a layup, Tre Marshall and Eastern sank 3-point shots from the corner, and Malik Jenkins added another trey before the stunned hosts could regroup.

New Trier (14-9, 5-3) didn’t have the firepower to match up with the Kits in what turned out to be a defensive duel. The Trevians contested most of Evanston’s shots for the first 3 quarters, limiting the visitors to 11-of-42 shooting from the field, but couldn’t muster much offense themselves. Freshman Spencer Boehm was the only New Trier player in double figures with 12 points.

“It wasn’t easy for us tonight,” Ellis said. “The first three quarters were back and forth, a one or two possession game. I thought our guys were locked in on defense most of the night. But in the first half every 3-point shot we took (1-of-9) was long. You could tell that was because they were so amped up (in front of a near-capacity crowd), so we just told them at halftime to slow down a little and we shot 6-of-12 in the second half.

“They’re proud of those back-to-back titles, and they should be, because it puts a stamp on their effort and drive and dedication to reach their goals. I thought our guys did an outstanding job of taking away New Trier’s strengths, and on their home floor, too.”

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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