With the Central Suburban South division championship already wrapped up, Evanston’s basketball team couldn’t have been blamed too much if a little lack of focus was a problem for Friday night’s matchup against Glenbrook South.
Add in the fact that GBS is in last place in the league — that the TV cameras were on — and that it was Senior Night and the distractions could have multiplied for the Wildkits.
Instead, coach Mike Ellis’ squad responded with one of its best offensive performances of the season and stretched the current winning string to 13 games in a row with a 73-38 drubbing of the Titans in the final appearance of the season at Beardsley Gym.
Evanston (21-2 overall, 9-0 CSL South) shot a sizzling 68 percent over the last three quarters to secure the one-sided win following a cold start, led by Nojel Eastern’s 17 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Eastern, with University of Illinois head coach John Groce watching closely, shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range and led a balanced attack that also included Charlie Maxwell (9 points), Tre Marshall (8), Jerome Bynum (8) and Dylan Mulvihill (8).
As a team, the Wildkits converted 23-of-34 from the field in front of an appreciative home crowd that hasn’t had many opportunities to catch a glimpse of the state’s 5th-ranked team. Friday’s contest marked only the sixth home game of the season for ETHS, which concludes the regular season with three more games on the road against Maine South, Chicago Simeon and Deerfield.
Ellis insisted after the easy win that the ETHS coaching staff wasn’t too concerned about a letdown after clinching the CSL South crown the previous weekend.
“Our (basketball) culture here is about the day-to-day process, and we’re not going to look past the next practice or the next opponent,” the coach said. “And we’re not going to waste an opportunity to improve as a team, because we still have to keep improving.
“I thought we came out a little over-anxious tonight and we were kinda sloppy at first. But as the game progressed we settled in and played a little more to our tempo. We only turned the ball over 5 times tonight, our shot selection was good and we shot the ball well. The offense did a good job of finding the spots where we could attack them best.”
Baskets by newly-eligible Jordan Gardner and Dravon Clayborn in the final minute of the first quarter helped the Kits ease to a 13-8 advantage and the hosts had surged to a 30-10 lead by midway through the second quarter. Evanston shot 10-of-12 in the second period, with Eastern chalking up 12 of his team’s total 28 points.
Gardner, a 6-foot-5 and 220-pound junior, has regained his academic eligibility for the second semester and could help fill the void following an injury to Evanston big man Elyjah Williams. Gardner started some games for the sophomore team last year and Friday contributed 7 points — on 3-of-3 shooting — and a blocked shot in his varsity debut.
“He has a strong body and he could help us,” Ellis said. “He is new to the varsity process, and we’re looking to see how he steps up in practice now. I think he’s heading in the right direction.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.