Even the coach of the deepest team in the state of Illinois can have trouble sometimes finding a hot shooting hand.
That’s the dilemma that Evanston basketball coach Mike Ellis faced this weekend when the Wildkits slipped into an inexplicable shooting slump and suffered back-to-back losses.
The shooting woes that started in Friday’s loss at Maine South continued to plague the Wildkits on Saturday night as they stumbled for a second straight night, bowing to Chicago Simeon 55-43 at the City-Suburban Showdown event hosted by Lyons Township High School.
Evanston, now 21-4, missed 13 straight 3-point field goal attempts, shot only 4-of-26 from 3-point range, and connected on a mere 22 percent (13-of-58) shots overall in the defeat. The Kits couldn’t solve Simeon’s 2-3 zone defense and the closest Ellis could come to finding a “hot hand” was freshman Lance Jones.
Jones scored on a layup and a 3-point shot in the fourth quarter.
“When shooters get looks, they’ve got to make shots,” Ellis said. “Typically for this team, one or two guys will step up and knock in shots when the others aren’t shooting well. Tonight they all just struggled to find a rhythm. I can’t fault the effort by our guys, because it was great. Had we made a couple more shots, it might have changed the whole complexion of that game.
“We’re not panicking. We just need to get refocused. We don’t need to change what we’re doing and we have a lot of skilled and talented players here. We’re too deep and too talented to stay in this hole.”
The game could still be a preview of the eventual Class 4A state championship game in four weeks if the Wildkits get back on track. And the Wolverines didn’t bring their “A” game, either, according to head coach Robert Smith, whose squad is in the midst of a three games in three days scenario that includes playing in the Chicago Public Schools city championship semifinals and finals.
The Wolverines limited Evanston standout Nojel Eastern to his worst career shooting night, as Eastern only connected on 3-of-19 shot attempts, including an 0-for-6 effort from 3-point range. Eastern still finished with a game-high 9 points for ETHS, followed by Dylan Mulvihill (8 points, 11 rebounds) and Charlie Maxwell (7 points).
“Today I thought we didn’t execute well in certain situations, but in the end we got the W (win) and that’s all that matters,” Smith said. “We tried to play it like the old Downstate (state tournament) formula with the three games in three days, like the quarterfinals, semifinals and then finals. I told them last week that I didn’t want any excuses, that the bottom line was that you’ve gotta go out there and play.
“We didn’t do anything special for Nojel. We stayed in that zone because we saw that they couldn’t shoot that well from the perimeter.”
Evanston trailed 30-17 at halftime but battled back into contention late in the third quarter, as back-to-back transition baskets by Eastern and Jerome Bynum cut the deficit to 35-31 with two minutes remaining. But Simeon (23-3) converted a drive by Talen Horton-Tucker and a 3-point shot by Evan Gilyard to regain a 40-32 advantage to close out the period.
Jones’ 3-point shot from the right wing gave Evanston hope with 1:33 remaining in the contest, down 49-43, but was Evanston’s last score of the night.
“We didn’t’ do a good job of closing out the third quarter, that’s true,” Ellis said. “But there was a key sequence in the fourth quarter with five minutes and change left where we had two mental breakdowns on defense where we allowed four points in two trips, and that really hurt us, too. That sequence was crucial for us.”
Zach Norvell led Simeon with 16 points and Josh Thomas added 15.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.