Nothing pleases Evanston basketball coach Mike Ellis more than a team that generates offense from its defense.
Ellis had plenty to be pleased about Tuesday night in the Wildkits’ 2018-19 season debut at the 42nd annual St. Viator Thanksgiving Tournament.
Senior guards Ryan Bost and Lance Jones combined for a dozen steals and the Kits shot down Conant 77-45 in the first round of the round-robin tournament. Sophomore Blake Peters connected on 7-of-10 3-point field goal attempts for a game-high 24 points and, as a team, the winners forced a staggering 34 turnovers.
That performance wouldn’t have been possible without Bost and Jones. Neither senior guard started the game because of extensive practice time they missed over the past month due to injuries, but it was their on-the-ball defense that rallied Evanston from an early 10-0 deficit.
Bost entered the contest with 4 minutes, 4 seconds remaining in the first quarter and Evanston was still scoreless at that point. He forced a couple of turnovers that helped the Kits trim the deficit to 12-7 by the end of the period, and was the catalyst for a dominating 29-2 run in the second stanza.
Peters fired in 15 points in that quarter — sinking 5 straight attempts from 3-point range in a dazzling display of shooting acumen — and Conant (1-1) finished the half with more turnovers than points, trailing 36-14.
ETHS extended the lead to 60-31 after three quarters as both Jones and Bost netted 13 points apiece.
Jones didn’t start because he missed almost a month of practice with a concussion, and could pass the protocol test until Monday. Bost injured his knee two weeks ago and Ellis at first feared that he might need knee surgery. The senior “glue guy” spent a couple of days on crutches and a couple more days sporting a knee brace for what was finally diagnosed as nothing more than a painful contusion.
Bost has been an unsung hero for Evanston fans who don’t do anything but watch the box score and count up total points over the past two seasons. His knack for pulling off steals — and rarely getting in foul trouble at the same time — and playing solid, fundamental defense is the main reason he’s in the starting lineup.
Put simply, Ellis loves his defense.
“Ryan is what I’d call a classic on-the-ball defender,” praised the Wildkit coach. “He gave us a huge lift with his on ball pressure tonight. He’s solid out there, without gambling. He played like a senior tonight. He saw what we weren’t doing right in the first quarter, and made those adjustments to what we needed to do.
“Ryan and Lance totally changed the game around when they went in. And that 29-2 quarter is something you see maybe once or twice — in a decade.”
“I’m just glad to be back on the court, and right now I feel perfect,” Bost declared. “I was very worried when I first hurt my knee because this is my senior year.
“Tonight I knew that we were down and we were getting scored on pretty easily. I just wanted to come in with intensity on defense, and turn that into offense. Getting those steals requires perfect timing. I like to size them (opposing ballhanders) up, especially when they’re near halfcourt and they try to spin away from me. I know at some point they have to come forward to me, and that’s when I take a chance and gamble.”
As a team, Evanston registered 25 steals and scored a total of 32 points off turnovers.
The Wildkits resume tourney play Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. versus Libertyville, now 0-2 after losing to both St. Viator and Prospect.