Evanston’s basketball team has kept its eyes on the big prize all season after finishing 3rd in the Class 4A state tournament a year ago.
But the Wildkits are in no rush to get back to Peoria.
Slowing the tempo down almost to a crawl in the second half, Evanston still had enough juice left Tuesday night to score a 68-60 victory over Glenbrook South in the semifinals of the Niles North Sectional tournament.
The Wildkits advanced to the sectional championship game for the 3rd year in a row and will take a 29-4 record into the title tilt against the Schaumburg-Loyola Academy winner on Friday at 7 p.m.
Senior co-captains Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden scored 18 points apiece and the winners avenged one of their regular-season losses by converting 11-of-12 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, including 6 in a row by Holden.
Leading 40-30 after a hot-shooting half by both clubs, ETHS head coach Mike Ellis elected to shift to a slower gear so the Wildkits wouldn’t have to spend long possessions trying to defend GBS’ screen rolls and slips.
In effect, the best defense for the winners was an offense that maintained possession for most of the last two quarters.
“It’s just like time of possession in a football game,” Ellis explained. “We wanted to play hard and we wanted to play smart in the second half, and we didn’t have to defend on multiple possessions against their offense. Our guys did a good job understanding that rationale and they were all on board. It was really a team effort.
Evanston head coach Mike Ellis can't believe the call during Tuesday's 68-60 sectional win over Glenbrook South.
“You have to guard all of their (GBS) guys or you’ll fall asleep against those slips and screen rolls. They might run 1 play that has 20 actions off of it, and you have to defend all 20. We didn’t want to take quick shots and be in a ton of a hurry to go down and play defense.”
“Coach told us that he wanted us to play smarter and he didn’t want us to rush,” Jones added after netting all 18 of his points in the first three periods. “Otherwise we’d have to play more minutes on defense. Everyone thinks all we are is just a fast-tempo team, but I like changing up our style like that. We tried to slow the game down and beat them at their own game. We realized that the slower we are --- then they can’t score.”
“When Coach Ellis wants us to play slow, we play slow, because he always puts us in a position to win,” said Holden. “I think slowing it down like that really helped us tonight.”
Evanston’s strategy didn’t limit the number of touches for 6-foot-4 Titan junior Dom Martinelli, who led the Central Suburban League South division in scoring this year and finished with a game-high 31 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field. But Glenbrook South (24-9) only mustered a total of 8 field goals from the other 7 players they used.
All-conference guard Will King couldn’t shake loose from the defense of Kit senior Ryan Bost and didn’t score a single point, although he did register 9 assists.
Ryan Bost of Evanston beats GBS defender Mac Hubbard for a transition basket.
“King’s their second leading scorer, so that means Ryan took 16 points off the board for them with his defense,” Ellis praised. “That’s what gave us some breathing room in the second half.”
“Ryan is a very good defensive player, and I think he’s one of the most underrated players in the state of Illinois. When he puts his mind to it, he can lock down anyone,” Jones said.
Evanston’s 40-30 halftime advantage was built on a sizzling start on offense. A pair of 3-point baskets by Holden and another triple by Blake Peters (15 points) gave the top-seeded Kits a 9-0 edge just over a minute into the contest, and for the half they sank 8-of-12 long range shots.
Sophomore Blake Peters of Evanston (15) lines up a 3-point shot on his way to a 15-point performance in Evanston's sectional win over Glenbrook South.
Ellis noted after the game that the last thing the Wildkits wanted was to have to play catch-up against the Titans.
“I think that good start was the key for us tonight,” said the veteran coach, “because it set the tone for all 32 minutes. You have to give our guys credit because they really came ready to play.”
Evanston’s biggest lead of the second half came at 49-34 midway through the third quarter, following a Jones steal and lay-in. GBS fought back to within 51-42 by the end of the period, but never got closer than 5 points against Evanston’s spread-it-out tactics.
Ellis’ reaction to reaching another sectional final?
“It’s nothing that I’m celebrating,” said the veteran coach. “It’s not the final destination for us --- we hope. When you’re on a trip, you don’t look at a rest stop as a reason to celebrate. You want to go farther.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.