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Now Evanston’s basketball team knows what it’s like to be in a street fight with a Chicago Public Schools power — and win it.

Six weeks after a loss in which the Wildkits weren’t able to match the intensity of top-ranked Morgan Park, ETHS passed a toughness test Saturday night with a hard-fought 65-58 triumph over Whitney Young at the “When Sides Collide” shootout event hosted by Glenbard East High School.

Evanston achieved its’ 9th straight victory as Nojel Eastern scored 20 points and Malik Jenkins sank 10-of-12 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.

Coach Mike Ellis’ squad almost wilted under Young’s relentless full-court pressure, as the Dolphins cut into what was once a 16-point deficit and battled to a 37-36 lead at the conclusion of a shocking 18-0 run in the third quarter.

But Eastern rallied the Kits by scoring the last eight points of the period and ETHS regained the lead despite committing 10 turnovers in the period.

Young (12-7) got as close as 47-45 in the final quarter but that’s when one of the toughest Kits on the roster — junior guard Jenkins — showed the city players that there’s toughness residing in the suburbs, too. He canned 7 straight at the charity stripe, a display of fortitude that didn’t surprise Ellis.

“There’s no doubt that Malik brings a toughness and a stability to this team when he’s out there,” said the Evanston coach after his team improved to 17-2 on the season. “He doesn’t get rattled, and he attacked their press when we needed him to. He was a big reason we were able to turn it around tonight. He made some big free throws and that’s what we needed against a very aggressive team.

“Even with all those turnovers (24 overall), I thought our guys were locked in mentally tonight. We understood what we were supposed to be doing, we just threw some soft, lazy passes and we had guys who weren’t cutting hard enough to get open. But they came back and executed after that third quarter. I was really pleased with our mental game tonight . I was proud of the way the guys didn’t panic with those turnovers, and with their ability to adjust on the fly out there.

“We were definitely better tonight than we were last night (win over Waukegan). I thought we put a better foot forward tonight. We had to make multiple efforts to make plays tonight and when you have to put out like that, it looks like a 12-round fight.”

Evanston couldn’t maintain a white-hot start that saw the winners hit 7 of their first 9 shots, including 4 from 3-point range. The Wildkits outscored Young 23-11 in the first quarter, and settled for a 30-15 halftime lead before falling out of their comfort zone when the Dolphins turned up the defensive pressure.

Eastern, who scored 8 points in the first quarter and zero in the second quarter, came to life again late in the third period when the Kits needed him to rise to the occasion. The 6-foot-6 junior, who earlier in the week received another college scholarship offer — this one from Iowa State — scored an old-fashioned 3-point play, a driving layup through the middle of the Young defense, and a 3-point basket, all in the final 67 seconds of the period.

“My adrenaline kicked in at the end of the third quarter and I knew I had to put my team on my back to get the lead back,” said Eastern, who shot 7-of-12 from the field and also grabbed 7 rebounds. “This is a great win for us. We came out and showed what we can do.”

Jenkins finished with 13 points and Charlie Maxwell contributed 7 points and 7 rebounds for the winners, who shot 9-of-18 from 3-point range compared to Young’s miserable 2-of-21. The Wildkits also drew a total of eight offensive fouls, further evidence of their willingness to take a licking and keep battling.

Young’s Lucas Williamson scored 15 of his total 17 points in the second half and heralded sophomore guard Xavier Castaneda netted 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

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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