Pressure doesn’t beat you in the first or second quarter.
But relentless on-the-ball pressure like Evanston applied against New Trier Friday night at a packed Gates Gym will eventually wear down even the best basketball teams.
The Wildkits forced 25 turnovers — including 7 steals by senior guard Lance Jones — and put the finishing touches on their 5th straight Central Suburban League South division championship by pulling away from New Trier in the second half for a 61-49 victory.
Evanston senior Lance Jones flies high to convert one of his game-high 7 steals to a slam dunk Friday night at New Trier.
Evanston, ranked 7th in the state of Illinois in the latest Associated Press Class 4A poll, completed a regular season sweep of the Trevians as Jones erupted for 22 points and took advantage of a New Trier backcourt depleted by injuries.
The 6-foot-2 Southern Illinois University recruit missed his first 5 shots from the field, and turned to Plan B — generating offense from his defense. He poured in 15 points in the third quarter as the visitors overcame a 22-21 halftime deficit and improved to 25-4 overall, 9-1 in league play.
ETHS has now won or shared the conference crown for five years in a row, the second longest streak in program history. The Wildkits were league champions for 6 straight seasons from 1984-1990.
Friday’s matchup was a showdown between two rivals seeded 1-2 for the Class 4A Niles North Sectional tournament, according to pairings released by the Illinois High School Association this week. New Trier (22-5 overall) could have earned a tie for the CSL South title with a win, but had to play without 6-foot-9 center Ciaran Brayboy and point guard Sam Silverstein. Brayboy is still sidelined by a concussion and Silverstein suffered a season-ending injury versus Niles North.
Evanston defender Jaylin Gibson (0) pokes the ball away from New Trier’s Spencer Boehm in 61-49 ETHS victory that clinched the program’s 5th straight division championship.
Two steals and two monstrous dunks by Jones in the second quarter helped the slow-starting Wildkits stay within striking distance despite shooting just 8-of-23 (33 percent) in the first two periods. He caught fire in the third quarter as the Wildkits outscored New Trier 23-14 and got back on track.
Jones accounted for 10 straight points in a 10-0 run that established the lead at 31-25. The gritty Trevians did get within four points twice in the fourth quarter, before ETHS closed out the game with an 11-3 surge in the last 4 minutes.
Jaylin Gibson and Ryan Bost backed up Jones with 9 points apiece, and Bost contributed 3 of his team’s 14 steals on the night. New Trier was paced by Spencer Boehm’s 18 points.
“Lance didn’t settle for those 18-foot jump shots, and it’s his defense that always gets him going,” pointed out Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “Lance and Ryan (Bost) always seem to ignite us with a defensive play or two. I think Lance really showed his growth and his maturity tonight. In the past he’d always evaluate his game on whether or not his shot is falling, but he’s grown so much and he’s so unselfish. And he wanted a matchup guarding Boehm (6 inches taller than the senior guard) when we had some foul trouble. He never backed down against Boehm and he put his team on his back on defense.
Jaheim Holden of Evanston gets the jump on the New Trier defense on his way to a layup.
“When you lose a point guard like New Trier did, it puts a lot of strain on you trying to run your offense. I just kept telling our guys (on defense) to stay with it, stay with it, stay with it because you’re not going to wear a team down in the first or second quarter. It takes time. We knew New Trier would fight through for 32 minutes and they did a good job of staying with us.”
“I was kinda frustrated in the first half, because I had some high percentage shots that weren’t falling,” said Jones, who finished 9-of-16 from the floor. “I didn’t feel like I was aggressive enough in the first half. I wanted to put more pressure on them.
“Ryan always plays phenomenal on the ball defense, but he was out there by himself in the first half. We tried to help him out and get some more steals in the second half.”
Ellis said he couldn’t really comment on achieving the program’s 5th straight conference title. The Kits will host CSL North division champion Glenbrook North in a crossover showcase game next Wednesday at 7 p.m. as the final tuneup for postseason play.
“All I can do is remember back to the fact that we lost to Glenbrook South in our first game, more than remembering the last 4 years,” he said. “After that, playing New Trier was a real challenge, Niles North has a lot of talent around them, and Maine South is a really good and well-coached team. It definitely required a lot of work on our part to get here, and our guys rose up and handled all of those tough tasks.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.