Mike Ellis sent the members of his Evanston basketball team an early message Thursday night at Beardsley Gymnasium.
And the Wildkits got that message and responded in emphatic fashion, crushing Glenbrook North 62-25 in a running clock victory in the Central Suburban League South division opener for both squads.
The Evanston coach benched his entire starting 5 just 17 seconds into the game — following a 3-point basket by GBN’s Ben Foster — and watched Evanston’s second unit deliver the effort that Ellis demands.
Reserve Ethan Kye fired in 8 points in the first 8 minutes, and Jaylin Gibson led all scorers with 20 points as the Wildkits improved to 5-0 on the season. Glenbrook North, which finished with more turnovers (29) than points, dipped to 2-2.
“The very first play we had up on our (scouting) board was the first set that GBN ran, and not one of our guys talked, not one of them executed on defense,” Ellis explained. “When you’re not focused, you’re not locked in, you’re not going to play. I just don’t want to see people going through the motions, whether it’s in the classroom or on the court.
“They all made mistakes — so I subbed them all out. That’s the first time I’ve ever done that early in a game. I think you have to give credit to the guys on our bench tonight. I credit the 5 guys who came in (Kye, DeVaughn Bell, Rashawn Bost, Jerome Smith, Logan Talmage) and set the pace for the rest of the game. That second group came in and really played unselfish basketball.
“All in all it was a pretty solid team effort — including the bench. A lot of those guys weren’t on the team last year, so they’re not comfortable yet. You can see that in practice. But when they get the system down and feel more comfortable, it’s just a matter of time before they can just go out and play without thinking so much.”
Gibson knew that the Wildkits didn’t exactly resemble the team ranked 6th in the state by the Associated Press in the first Class 4A poll of the season this week. But it didn’t take them long to find a groove once he, Blake Peters, Daeshawn Hemphill, Elijah Bull and Itchy Holden re-entered the game with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
Evanston led 8-6 after the second unit went back to the bench and the hosts never looked back, building quarter leads of 15-8, 26-13 and 51-19 before the slaughter rule went into effect in the final quarter.
“I was kinda confused, I didn’t know what was going on,” said Gibson regarding the early trip to the bench. “But those other 5 guys came in and went on a run and that’s what started us on the way to this win.
“It was a wakeup call and that second group got us going. They come out strong and they don’t play scared. We’ve put them through a lot in practice to make sure they’re ready for the tough games we’re going to play this year. And once we (starters) got back in we were a lot more aware defensively. We were quicker, we were rotating better and talking a lot more.”
Gibson totaled 20 points (on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor), 6 rebounds and 3 steals for the winners. Kye added a 3-point basket in the second half mopup time to finish with 11 points, and Hemphill’s 5 steals were part of a team effort that produced 19 steals from the bewildered Spartan ballhandlers.
Offensive highlight of the second half was the first 4-point play by Peters this season with 3:41 left in the third period. His effort — after being fouled by North’s Blake Lidskin on the left wing — triggered a 17-2 run by the winners to close out the quarter.