Good defense and great free throw shooting can carry a high school basketball team a long way.
That’s the formula that helped Evanston catch and pass Prospect for a 64-62 overtime victory Friday night at the Saint Viator Thanksgiving Classic tournament.
Blake Peters sank 4 free throws in the overtime period after the defense rallied the unbeaten (3-0) Wildkits from a 7-point deficit with 4 minutes remaining in regulation. Peters converted 9-of-9 at the charity stripe to pace a sizzling effort for the winners, who were 24-of-26 overall and didn’t miss at all in the second half or overtime.
Peters netted a team-high 20 points, despite missing 8 of 9 3-point field goal tries, and Jaylin Gibson (19 points, 15 rebounds) and Daeshawn Hemphill (15 points) helped the winners overcome a poor start in which they missed at least 7 layups in the first quarter alone.
Matt Woloch scored a game-high 31 points for Prospect (1-3).
Evanston improved to 3-0 despite shooting just 31 percent (18-of-59) from the field. The Wildkits will face host Saint Viator, which suffered its first defeat (62-60) against Libertyville on Friday, in the final game of the round-robin tournament at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Wildkits fell behind 54-50 with 1:10 remaining, but Woloch’s missed free throw opened the door just enough for an ETHS comeback. Prospect turned the ball over 3 times in the final minute, including a pair of steals by Elijah Bull, and wilted against Evanston’s man-to-man pressure, committing 23 turnovers for the game.
A layup by Hemphill, two Peters free throws and a lay-in by Gibson offset a late bucket by Woloch, but Evanston was in position to win in regulation. Peters launched a 3-point shot just before the buzzer that bounced off the back iron.
That miss didn’t faze the Wildkits --- or Peters, the junior sharpshooter. Bull fed Hemphill for a 2-pointer, and after that go-ahead bucket, Peters swished 4 free throws in the final 58 seconds to secure the victory.
“Blake got his shots tonight, he just didn’t make them,” pointed out Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “But that just shows you how mentally tough he is. Only Blake could go 1 for 9 from 3-point range and go 9 for 9 at the free throw line. He cashed in every time at the free throw line because he doesn’t worry about the 3-point misses, or what he did on his last shot. He’s always in the present, and that’s one of his strengths as a player.
“Even though we were down I knew we could come back because we have a lot of equal pieces. Different guys kept stepping up in the course of play, and Elijah Bull really had some big steals for us at the end. You can’t underestimate his value to this win.”
The Knights put together numbers that didn’t add up for a win. The losers shot 64 percent from the field, but those 23 turnovers were reminiscent of the type of pressure Evanston’s guards have been able to put on every opponent over the past two seasons.
“That was almost feast or famine type defense,” said Ellis, describing his team’s performance. “And we can’t be that type of team this year. They split a lot of our traps and got layups tonight. We need to be more sound on defense and not gamble so much in our double teams. We let them escape our pressure too many times.
“When we went back to just that 1-on-1 pressure, we were better than when we were double-teaming. They need to trust in that defense. They need to trust and believe in themselves.”
Evanston recovered from that slow start to take a 29-26 halftime advantage, then fell behind 39-35 after only sinking 2-of-13 field goal attempts in the third quarter.