The lead in the second half changed hands a total of 14 times between Evanston’s basketball team and Providence of Jacksonville (Fla.) in the first round of the Beach Ball Classic tournament held in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

That’s when Lance Jones decided to put the game in his own hands.

Two steals by the ETHS sophomore guard that resulted in layups at the other end in the last two minutes helped the Wildkits edge the Stallions 53-52 Monday night.

The weary Kits — who had rise at 3 a.m. to make their initial plane trip and also endured a 3-hour layover in Atlanta before finally concluding the journey to South Carolina — survived 11 missed free throws and improved to 11-1 on the season. They’ll have Tuesday off before continuing on in the winner’s bracket on Wednesday.

Jones scored a team-high 15 points and was credited with 6 steals, none bigger than the last two. Nojel Eastern added 14 points despite shooting just 4-of-12 from the field and 6-of-10 from the free throw line, well below his season norms.

Providence, which has won three state championships in Florida since 2010, slipped to 7-4 on the year despite 26 points from Zack Bryant and 12 from Kyle Marion.

Jones victimized both players —- described as Division I point guards by Evanston coach Mike Ellis — with steals down the stretch. First he stripped Bryant at three-quarter court off the dribble and  raced for a layup that gave the Kits a 51-48 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining in the contest.

Then the Stallions, trailing only 51-50, tried an inbound play from the baseline. The pass sailed all the way out toward midcourt, where the 6-foot Jones outjumped the 6-1 Marion, knocked the ball loose and set himself up for what turned out to be the game-clinching score with 71 seconds to play.

“Lance wasn’t proud of the way he played in Ohio last week, but to his credit he didn’t pout about it. Lance never pouts,” Ellis said. “He played with extraordinary passion tonight, he really played hard, and I think his athleticism surprised them a little bit. That’s not easy to do against two Division I guards.

“I don’t think we played our smartest game, and we certainly didn’t help ourselves at the free throw line (10-of-21). But we overcame all that and I’m proud of the way our guys competed tonight. We didn’t make excuses because of the travel, we showed up to win.”

“Tonight I had to come out and make sure I didn’t force anything and let the game come to me,” Jones said. “At the end I was thinking that I could make a difference.

“On the first steal I just ripped it away from him. I knew I could reach in and get it if I timed it right. And against that taller guy, I saw the pass coming and I made sure I got a higher jump than he did.

“I made sure I took a nap before the game and I’m glad I had some energy left at the end. It was a very exhausting day.”

Evanston led 24-21 at halftime under a tournament format in which the teams played 16-minute halves, not quarters.

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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