Evanston’s basketball team will only go as far as Jaylin Gibson and Blake Peters take them this year, and no one knows that better than the two juniors.
After a slow start in Game 1, Wildkit fans saw a glimpse of the new and improved 2.0 versions of Gibson and Peters as players Wednesday night in the second round of the Saint Viator Thanksgiving Classic tournament.
The pair combined for 42 points --- after netting a combined 13 in the season opener --- and Peters tied the single game school record for steals as the Wildkits brushed aside Conant 69-56 and improved to 2-0.
The defending tournament champions wrap up action Friday against Prospect (5 p.m.) and Saturday against the host team (3 p.m.).
Not many teams have a better 1-2 punch when they’re on their game and the tendency to feed off each other leads to Evanston’s best overall play as a team. It’s a formula that’s worked since Mike Ellis took over as head coach and represents the balance that every high school team seeks on a nightly basis.
Wednesday, Peters fired in 17 points in the first half on his way to a team-best 23, and with the outcome still in doubt at halftime, Gibson poured in 11 points in the third quarter alone to help put the game out of reach.
Daeshawn Hemphill added 10 points for the winners, who showed remarkable efficiency on offense with only 5 turnovers and 51 percent (18-of-35) shooting from the field.
Peters grabbed 8 steals on defense, tying the mark set by Karlton Mims against Waukegan back in 1998 and matched by Jaheim Holden in last year’s Class 4A supersectional victory over Stevenson.
He fired in 3 straight 3-point baskets at the end of the first half to wipe out a 3-point deficit and put the Kits back in control at the half, up 35-29. Gibson, who didn’t start for the second game in a row after missing practice last week, racked up 11 of Evanston’s 14 points in the third period, with Peters (7-of-14 from 3-point range) knocking in a trey to build the advantage to 49-36.
“That was a little better tonight,” said Ellis. “We definitely shot the ball a lot better. Any time Blake shoots well like that, it gives the other guys confidence and they start to feed off of each other. That’s the guy (Peters) they see in practice every day. That’s the guy they’re used to seeing. Tonight they all used their teammates a lot better (on offense). We had a career-low for me at Evanston 5 turnovers, and 15 assists as a team, and that’s really good to see.”
Gibson’s emergence as a difference-maker on offense wasn’t exactly unexpected, but in his first two varsity seasons, the 6-foot-4 standout was more likely to turn the tide with a blocked shot or a steal than at the offensive end.
Gibson’s scoring splurge in the third period helped slow down Conant’s junior star, Devon Ellis, by forcing him to expend more energy on the defensive end. Ellis notched 20 of his team’s total 29 points in the first half, but only netted one field goal in the second half en route to a game-high 28 points.
Gibson shot 7-of-10 from the field and scored on dazzling move after dazzling move, ripping apart the seams of the Cougar defense.
“They played their horse (Ellis) 32 minutes, so we had to push him to his max,” said Coach Ellis. “When we’re knocking in perimeter shots like we did tonight, they have to stretch their zone and Jaylin was able to finish better tonight.
“Jaylin’s growth showed tonight. We saw that from him in the summer. We want him to dictate on both ends of the floor. That’s when he’s at his best, when he’s forcing the pace, not when he’s back on his heels and his athleticism disappears. He’s a hard guy to cover when he’s dictating the pace.”
Conant (0-3), which scored less than 50 points twice in two prior tournament losses, did the dictating in the first half as the Wildkits couldn’t find anyone to neutralize the high-scoring Ellis. But the Cougars only scored 7 baskets in the second half.
“We got hurt on traps in the first half,” admitted Coach Ellis. “But once we started guarding them better, we forced more contested shots. We did less scrambling around on defense and we had more solid help.”