Even though they’re undefeated, one flaw that has surfaced so far for Evanston’s basketball team has been a tendency to start slow.
Maybe the Wildkits were just waiting to play in the friendly confines of Beardsley Gym to burst out of the starting gate, because that’s exactly what they did Friday night in the Central Suburban League South division opener against Niles North.
Evanston splurged for a season-high 24 points in the first quarter and never looked back, cruising to a 70-56 victory that upped their record to 6-0 on the season entering Saturday’s date with nationally-ranked Montverde Academy from Jacksonville, Fla.
The Kits converted 9-of-11 field goal attempts over the first 8 minutes to build a 24-7 advantage, then basically played the Vikings even the rest of the way in the first-ever meeting between the two schools as members of the same division.
Chris Hamil fired in a game-high 17 points as Evanston’s team-first approach topped the Vikings’ me-first philosophy. The Wildkits were credited with 22 assists on their 29 field goals while North’s 1-on-1 style of offense featured 34 percent shooting from the field (20-of-58) — and just two team assists.
Nojel Eastern added 16 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots and Jaheim Holden contributed 11 points and 3 assists. Elyjah Williams netted only 6 points but led all rebounders with 11 and also recorded 4 assists for the winners.
Jordan LaBelle led North (3-2 overall) with 15 points and Evanston product Dravon Clayborn, who transferred into the program this past summer, tallied 13 on 6-of-17 shooting from the floor.
ETHS head coach Mike Ellis said he hasn’t really been too concerned about his team’s penchant for slow starts, but did acknowledge that Friday’s performance was part of the ongoing challenge for the Kits to improve every week.
“That good start we had was done with defense,” Ellis pointed out. “That’s what fueled us early on. We kept getting hot on the offensive end because we were on fire at the defensive end.
“In the six games so far we had a good start against Conant, a slow start against Prospect and we were back and forth against Libertyville. I’m not concerned. After all, they’re trying just as hard every game. If I thought it was becoming a problem, the obvious solution would be to fix the starting lineup. But it’s not a problem as far as I’m concerned.
“We do need to play a complete 32 minutes to keep getting better as a team. We needed to finish a little better tonight (4 missed dunks as a team), and our on-ball defense got a little sloppy at the end, too.”
Hamil, a senior co-captain, scored 5 points during that opening surge and recognizes that in a season where the Wildkits will face some of the top teams in the nation, a slow start could be fatal to their chances.
“The start of the game is important, because you never know how good the other team is and you don’t want to get too far behind. And some of our games have been sloppy at the start,” said Hamil, who connected on 7-of-15 field goal attempts and also had a team-high 5 assists. “Coach has talked to us some about getting off to a good start, to get our mindset right, and I’m sure he’ll talk more about it once he sees the film. We wanted to get up on them early, and tonight was the best start we’ve had this year.
“I didn’t realize I had that many points tonight (including his first dunk of the season). I just tried to play hard, get everyone involved on offense and keep the ball moving.”
Niles North did close to within 58-41 midway through the fourth quarter, but Hamil nailed a pair of 3-point shots — assisted by Lance Jones and Eastern — and his jam with two minutes remaining pushed the lead to 66-48.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.