What could have turned out to be the best night in Evanston basketball history only turned into the LONGEST night in Evanston basketball history.
The Wildkit girls fell just short in their bid to take down the state’s No. 1 ranked team, bowing in double overtime by a 75-71 margin to powerful Benet Academy.
If Benet really is No. 1, Evanston is no worse than 1A. But that was scant consolation for ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson and her squad after Benet’s Kendall Holmes (game-high 25 points) stuck a dagger in their collective hearts with a 3-point basket with 21 seconds left in the second OT.
After an Evanston miss, Molly Sheehan sank two free throws to clinch the taut battle that served as a showcase for girls basketball for the fans who stuck around Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena late Saturday night for the finale of the E-Town Showdown.
Ambrea Gentle, after a slow start, led Evanston (22-4) with 20 points and 11 rebounds and junior Rashele Olantunbosun also netted a career-high 20 points in a losing cause.
Johnson knew topping the effort by the ETHS boys team, a 3-overtime win over Sussex Hamilton of Wisconsin, in the game prior to the girls’ showdown wouldn’t be easy.
But the Wildkits almost pulled it off, until Holmes chased down an offensive rebound near the top of the key and tossed in an off-balance 3-pointer to send the Redwings ahead to stay.
“To be in a game with a team that talented, that shows we’re headed in the right direction,” said Johnson after the Kits lost for the third time in their last four games. “We were just a few plays away from beating them, that’s all. We didn’t do anything to lose that game, until we missed a box-out on that last play.
“I’m proud of the way our kids fought tonight. And I thought it was a great game for girls high school basketball, too. It was a fun game to coach.”
Evanston actually had the game won until the final moment of the first overtime. Benet’s Holmes was knocked to the floor on a drive to the basket with 1.5 seconds to play, and game officials insisted that the Redwings send in a substitute shooter instead of allowing the injured star to attempt those charity tosses herself.
Senior Allison Forney came off the bench and calmly swished a pair of free throws to knot the score at 63-all and send the game into a second overtime.
“You have to give her credit, to come in cold in a situation like that,” said Johnson, who tried to ice the shooter with a timeout in between attempts. “Those free throws didn’t even touch the net.
“They’re a tough team, and we’re a tough team. It just came down to that one possession and a crazy looking shot. That shows that people who work hard to get rebounds like that will be rewarded in those situations.
“We were better tonight in late game situations than we were against Fenwick ( last Tuesday). I just hope we keep getting better and better in these situations, but these are tough lessons to learn.”
Holmes, who scored 10 points in the second overtime, shot the Redwings into a 70-66 lead with 2:15 to play in the last OT. But the Wildkits reclaimed the lead and refused to go quietly, as a 3-point play by Gentle with 57 seconds left gave ETHS a 71-70 edge.
On the next possession, Benet’s Sheehan was off-target from 3-point range, but the long rebound went to the winners.
Gentle’s Herculean effort underneath against a succession of Benet bigs didn’t go unnoticed by her head coach. The 6-foot-3 senior was held without a field goal for the first 20 minutes, but more than made up for that with her effort down the stretch. She converted 6-of 14 field goal attempts and also sank 8-of-13 at the free throw line.
“Ambrea had a really tough first half,” Johnson acknowledged. “But against Fenwick she had a tough first half, and a tough second half. Tonight Benet didn’t have an answer for her in the second half. Her response was much better, and that’s something we can build off of.”
Benet, now 24-3, led 15-8, 26-24 and 43-39 at the first three quarter stops. The winners salvaged a 55-55 tie and forced overtime when Kendall Moriarty (10 points) scored on a drive down the middle with 1.5 seconds left on the clock.