Lance Jones said good-bye to historic Beardsley Gymnasium with a game-high 25 points.
Jaheim Holden couldn’t leave without registering the first dunk of his career.
The two Evanston seniors combined for 46 points Friday night and helped Evanston ease to an 80-68 victory over Notre Dame in the championship game of the Class 4A Evanton Regional tournament.
Providing the exclamation point for Evanston’s regional championship Friday night, senior guard Jaheim Holden soars on his way to his first dunk of the season.
A memorable final appearance by a group of seniors who have done nothing but win boosted ETHS to 28-4 on the season. And it’s not the last time they’ll step onto the Beardsley court. They’re all hoping there are plenty of practice sessions remaining on the road back to the Final Four.
Evanston, the No. 1 seed in the Niles North Sectional complex, punched a ticket to next Tuesday’s 7 p.m. semifinal sectional game against Glenbrook South. Loyola Academy and Schaumburg will meet in the other semifinal on Wednesday, with the title game set for March 8th.
Clinging to a 26-25 lead at halftime, the hosts decked Notre Dame with a 27-point explosion in the third quarter and sent the Dons to the sideline with a final record of 19-12. Sophomores Jaylin Gibson (13 points) and Blake Peters (17) also scored in double figures for the winners.
Sophomore Jaylin Gibson attacks the rim in Evanston’s 80-68 regional championship win.
Evanston product Anthony Sayles and Troy D’Amico, both sophomores, combined for 45 points for the losers.
Holden’s dunk with 15 seconds left was the punctuation mark for Evanston’s 10th consecutive victory and was a special moment for the 6-foot senior guard, who sank 11-of-12 free throw attempts on his way to a 21-point effort.
He stole the ball from Sayles and threw it down right-handed for his last tally of the night.
“I knew I could do it, but I’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time,” Holden said. “I just never had the opportunity before. I just knew when I got that moment, I had to make the most of it. That’s my first one of the year and that’s the way to go out at Beardsley.
“There aren’t too many teams in the state that can match up with our athleticism. A lot of us are quick and strong. In the second half we just needed to communicate more on defense. We came out with an agenda, to defend our home court and to take home that regional championship.”
Jones, who converted 12-of-17 field goal attempts and was also credited with 4 assists and 3 steals, enjoyed his climb up the ladder to cut down the nets one last time at Beardsley.
“I’ll always remember playing in this gym,” said the senior standout. “I feel like we went out with a bang tonight.
“I think tonight was a combination of our athleticism and our effort. Without the effort, we don’t make those steals and get that run in the third quarter. We have the advantage when we play on a longer court because we’re in great condition.”
The Wildkits blitzed the visitors with a 16-5 run in the first 4 minutes of the third period to stretch the lead to 42-30 and the closest the Dons could get after that was a 9-point deficit late in the fourth quarter. Holden poured in 6 straight free throws in the last 60 seconds, along with his dunk.
Holden’s younger brother, Itchy, made a big contribution in that third quarter run on defense even though he went scoreless on the night. The sophomore reserve forced back to back turnovers — Notre Dame finished with 25 miscues — after ETHS had seized a 7-point lead to set up a triple by Peters and a reverse baseline drive by Jaheim.
Earlier in that surge, Peters converted a patented (for him) 4-point play that ignited the home crowd.
“Our effort made up for our mistakes tonight, and we played smart on offense in the second half,” said ETHS head coach Mike Ellis. “They did a nice job of executing in the second half after we missed 9 layups in that first half.
“Both Itchy and Ryan (Bost) gave us great front-court pressure on the ball and they don’t get enough credit for what they do. The stat that they fill up is in the win column, and that’s the most important one.
“Notre Dame is a good team and they came in playing well. We knew it might be a challenge for us tonight. But people need to understand just what a hard team we are to guard. We don’t just give the ball to one guy and say win the game for us. We’re at our best when we play through each other, and tonight we had 4 guys in double figures. We had an equal effort all around on both offense and defense.”
While the seniors made their last official appearance at Beardsley, Ellis is in no hurry to say good-bye to any of them.
“These seniors have meant so much to our culture, and I didn’t want to have to say good-bye to them tonight. That’s the last thing I wanted,” declared the veteran coach.