Basketball coaches at any level will tell you that good offense can be contagious. The same theory applies at the other end of the court, too.
Malcolm Townsel’s steal and layup halted the third quarter bleeding for Evanston’s basketball team Saturday night and the Wildkits pulled off three more defensive stops to open the fourth quarter, enough to send them on their way to a 60-48 victory over Homewood-Flossmoor in the final game of a tripleheader at the War On The Shore shootout event at Beardsley Gym.
One week after the Kits let a double digit lead in the second half get away from them in a loss to Naperville North, coach Mike Ellis’ squad proved that they learned a lesson from that disappointment and improved to 18-3 on the season.
Townsel, the senior transfer from Whitney Young, may never make a bigger play this season. After playing a flawless first half and easing to a 36-22 advantage by the intermission, the Wildkits couldn’t make a dent when H-F switched to a 2-3 zone defense and saw that lead melt to just 41-38 with 1:12 remaining in the third stanza.
The Vikings had a chance to tie the game with a 3-point basket or at least keep it a one possession game going into the final period. Only Townsel took it upon himself to change the game’s momentum in the final seconds.
The rangy senior intercepted a bounce pass and streaked three-quarters of the court for a layup with only 9 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 43-38 and restored order — at least as far as ETHS fans were concerned.
Steals by Nojel Eastern and Jaheim Holden to open the fourth quarter boosted the lead back to 49-40 and the hosts never looked back, even connecting on all 6 free throws they attempted in the final period.
Chris Hamil (17 points, 5 rebounds), Eastern (14 points, 9 rebounds), Elyjah Williams (12 points) and Townsel (11 points) sparked another balanced effort on offense to offset the 1-2 punch of the Vikings, featuring 19 points from Jeffrey Boyd and 16 for Jarrett Tribble.
But it was Townsel’s defensive stand that turned the tide for the hosts and dropped the visitors to 15-7 on the season.
“I pride myself on my defense and I made some big mistakes tonight,” Townsel said. “H-F had the momentum at that point and I just wanted to change that momentum with a big play. It was getting away from us, a little. But I knew that the drills we did all week in practice and all the film we watched — it was a lot — would help us bounce back, and we did.
“I just saw the guy with the ball look at my man, and I saw a gap between the two of them and I just read it and went for it. We got three straight stops after that, so it really changed the momentum.”
“We were looking for a play to stabilize us at that point, and Malcolm gave it to us,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “He allowed the rest of his teammates to dig in then and regain their composure. What he did led to more stops and strips, and he was the initiator of all that. The others saw him get one (steal) and they started thinking they could make plays on the ball on defense, too. We never let it get back to a one-possession game because of that play.
“You have to give our guys credit, because when the momentum swings the other way, it’s hard to get it back. This was really a good weekend for us. Take away that third quarter and I thought our guys were focused and locked in. This was definitely a win where everyone chipped in and played a part.”
Hamil’s hot hand early included three straight 3-point baskets in the first quarter, including a 4-point play by the irrepressible senior for the second straight night. He shot 4-of-6 from 3-point range on the night, and as a team the winners converted 49 percent (19-of-39) of their field goal attempts while holding H-F to 38 percent (18 of 47).
Sophomore Lance Jones’ defense on Viking point guard Nicholas Holmes kept H-F from getting untracked on offense in the first half and drew praise from his head coach.
“Lance only scored what, 2 points, but he impacted the game like he scored 22 points tonight,” Ellis noted. “When our guys are more worried about how they produce on the defensive end than on offense, we’re so much better as a team.”
In other games as part of the event designed to raise awareness about epilepsy, Jacobs downed New Trier 63-49 while Loyola Academy rallied in the second half to topple Saint Patrick by a 69-60 margin.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.