At this rate, Nojel Eastern may never play in a losing game against New Trier’s basketball team.
The Evanston sophomore took over with a highlight reel-type performance in the third quarter as the Wildkits racked up their fourth straight victory over the Trevians and remained in a tie for first place in the Central Suburban League South division with a 54-41 triumph at Beardsley Gym Friday night.
ETHS (12-6, 5-1) completed a regular season sweep of the Trevs (13-7, 3-2) for the second year in a row and knocked the losers out of what had been a three-way logjam at the top of the division standings along with Maine South. With Eastern showing the way, the hosts outscored New Trier 21-5 in the decisive third period.
Just like he did in an earlier win at New Trier, Eastern dominated the third stanza with his scoring, passing and defense. He energized the partisan crowd with a steal and dunk that snapped a 27-27 tie with 6 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the quarter and didn’t stop until he amassed a team-high 14 points, 7 assists , 2 steals and a blocked shot.
Most of that came after a quiet first half in which he totaled just 2 points and only took 2 shots as New Trier battled to a 24-24 halftime tie.
Eastern’s right-handed slam — the sophomore does everything right-handed normally except shoot a basketball — wasn’t the only play that brought Beardsley spectators out of their seats. He scored on an offensive rebound, fed teammate Micquel Roseman for a 3-point basket, added another 17-foot jumper and scored on a spin move that defied explanation as the clock wound down on the first half.
On Evanston’s final possession of the period, he maneuvered past a befuddled New Trier defender, Tino Malnati, and slipped a pass to Dylan Mulvihill for a bucket that just beat the buzzer.
Eastern’s second-half explosion was complemented by the first-half efforts of Xhavier Hilliard, who totaled 10 of his 12 points in that stretch. Elijah Henry contributed 9 points and 4 rebounds for the winners, who shot 52 percent (22-of-42) from the floor.
New Trier mustered only a 15-of-41 shooting performance, led by Robbie Abuls with a game-high 16 points.
“We knew we had to play harder and come out with intensity in the second half,” Eastern said. “I just tried to get my teammates involved and let the game come to me, instead of forcing anything. We’re a second half team and I just tried to get everyone on the floor an opportunity to score.
“That dunk felt good, especially in front of a crowd like this one. The only thing I do lefty is shoot a basketball. When I was young, about 5 years old, I shot right-handed but then I tried shooting with my left hand and decided I was better at it that way. So I just started shooting left-handed.”
“At halftime we told Nojel we thought he could be a little more aggressive, and he really came out and dictated play in the second half,” said Evanston coach Mike Ellis. “He was a big part of us shooting 52 percent tonight because of the way he got everyone involved. He made some plays tonight.
“We talked about how the flow of the game was that this was set up to be a defensive battle, and that’s when we’re most comfortable, in a grind-it-out game. We guarded well tonight and that’s what our strength is as a team.”
Evanston will tackle once-beaten Riverside-Brookfield Saturday in a shootout at Glenbard East High School.
Source: ETHS Sports Information