Jaheim Holden admitted he’d never felt anything quite like this on a basketball court. But it’s a feeling the Evanston sophomore could get used to after his unstoppable performance in the fourth quarter Friday night in Skokie powered the Wildkits to their sixth straight Central Suburban League South division victory.
Holden even added a little uncharacteristic trash talk to the mix, as he tallied 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter of a 72-59 triumph over Niles North. Nojel Eastern (20 points), Elyjah Williams (14 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists) and Malcolm Townsel (12 points) joined Holden in double figures as the Kits beat the Vikings for the second time this season and improved to 16-2 overall and 6-0 in league play.
Niles North (12-7 overall, 3-3 CSL South) was still within striking distance of the league leaders, trailing just 50-44 with 7 minutes remaining in regulation. But the Vikings didn’t have anyone who could guard Holden, and the sophomore guard erupted for 13 points in a spread offense that found him beating defenders to the basket in more 1-on-1 situations than you could count.
Holden’s 15 points were just two shy of his career high and he didn’t start Friday’s game. Head coach Mike Ellis has settled on a rotation where sophomores Holden, Lance Jones and Ryan Bost are sharing a starting job and take turns in the starting lineup.
“Jaheim actually probably had the best week of practice this week, but it was just Lance’s turn to start,” Ellis said. “I never know which one of them is going to play well and I admit that I’m just rolling the dice. They’re all doing a great job for us.
“We found a mismatch with Jaheim late in the third quarter tonight and we just spread it out and kept going to him. Niles North was in a panic mode on defense, trying to catch up, and that played right into Jaheim’s hands. The balance of our team means that all others can do things with the ball, too and all 5 guys we put out there can hurt you.”
All of the ETHS players spent the week taking semester exams and that was part of the explanation for Evanston’s slow start. The Wildkits trailed 18-11 after the first period, but regrouped to take a 32-28 lead over the hosts by halftime.
“It was a very tough week for all of us,” Holden said after connecting on 5-of-7 field goal attempts. “Our practices were cut short all week, and because most of us were up late studying our energy level came down some, too. I really had to lock in and stay focused tonight.
“I started off not so good with two early fouls, but the coaches stuck with me and I got the right mindset back. I realized after I beat my man (defender) the first time when I got back in that I can’t be guarded tonight — and that’s the first time I’ve ever felt like that. That will give me a boost in confidence now, to attack teams in every way possible. It just came out of me tonight.”
Evanston capitalized on that mismatch, but the slow start could also be attributed to the visitors’ refusal to get the ball inside to the 6-foot-6 Eastern and Williams early in the contest. Both players only had limited touches despite the fact that the Vikings started smaller players at every single position.
“We got away from our strengths tonight, and we tried to do too much as individuals instead of playing team ball,” Ellis pointed out. “We were just trying to win the 1-on-1 matchups and we were playing right into their hands when we did that. We have to use more patience and more team play and then let the holes (in the defense) unfold. To be a state tournament team we need to play with smartness and toughness. We did only have 3 turnovers in the second half (after losing the ball 10 times in the first half), so we valued the ball a lot more in the second half.”
Damaria Franklin paced Niles North with 15 points but shot just 5-of-17 from the floor, including a 2-of-10 effort from 3-point range.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.