Jaylin Gibson enjoyed a reunion of sorts Saturday afternoon at New Trier at the 10th annual War On The Shore shootout event.
The Evanston junior was reunited with some former AAU teammates and he made certain he’d have bragging rights the next time they run into each other, on or off the court.
Gibson stashed in a game-high 22 points, and added 8 rebounds and 3 steals as the Wildkits rallied from a 7-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 74-69 triumph over south suburban power Hillcrest.
Gibson’s day included some good-natured --- and not-so-good-natured --- trash talking with the Hawks, plus a 15-of-18 performance at the free throw line as the Wildkits stretched their perfect season record to 18-0.
Blake Peters (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Isaiah Holden (14 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) were part of another balanced effort by the team ranked No. 2 in the latest Class 4A state poll. Teammates Daeshawn Hemphill and Rashawn Bost added 9 points apiece.
Hillcrest (13-6 overall) got double figure point production from Markeise Irving (19), Jakobi Heady (17) and Julius Rollins (10).
Evanston outscored the Hawks 17-5 in the last 5 minutes of the game to wipe out a 7-point deficit, and most of those points came at the charity stripe. The winners converted 14 of 15 at the free throw line in the final period, led by Gibson’s attacking style that netted an 8-of-8 effort by the junior standout himself.
For the game, ETHS outscored the foul-prone Hawks 24-8.
Bothered by a bad hip this week, Gibson had plenty of opportunities to rest it during the competition Saturday with all of those trips to the charity stripe. He’s shooting 75 percent on the year and was even head coach Mike Ellis’ choice to shoot a couple of technical tosses midway through the third quarter, when Gibson was taunted by Hillcrest’s Hamarhie Bowers during a stoppage in play.
“It was a big win for us, because I used to play with some of those guys when I was jumping around to different AAU teams,” Gibson said. “We all talked some stuff during the game, but we were all just trying to have some fun. I hurt my hip against Niles West (on Tuesday) and I’ve just been able to play through it this week. It’s a lot better than it was before, but not 100 percent yet.
“Before this year I wasn’t so good at the free throw line, so that’s something I really worked on this summer. I wanted to get better at it and compete with Blake (as the team’s No. 1 foul shooter. We made the most of our chances today.
“We do a 46-46 drill in practice where the first team to 50 wins, so the team that gets the most stops on defense is the one that wins the drill. That helped us in the fourth quarter. I think late in games we communicate a lot better, we stay together and lock up on defense. I wasn’t really too worried when we got behind, because I know what we can do.”
Gibson’s ability to rise to the occasion against one of the top teams in Illinois came as no surprise to Ellis.
“Jaylin and Blake have been winners at every level of the game, and that’s something that doesn’t get written about a lot,” said the ETHS head coach. “They’re winners and there’s no debate about that. Jaylin does such a great job with a multiple skill set and you can’t put what he does singularly well on a scouting report, because he does so much. He’s a lot like (former Wildkit star) Nojel Eastern that way. He’s fearless out there.
“As much as any team I’ve ever coached, this team has guts, and they have love. We bring those two things to the floor for every game and it’s a joy to watch these guys play. Our defense in that second half was not just effort, they were in the right spots at the right time, and they were really connected as a defensive unit.”
Elijah Bull applied the defensive clamps on Irving, who went scoreless in the fourth quarter when the Hawks needed a go-to guy. Hillcrest’s offense found the going a lot tougher after the Hawks exploded for 25 points in the third quarter, then built a 64-57 advantage with 5 minutes left in regulation.
Evanston responded with defensive stops and 12 straight points ---including a 3-point play by Holden on a nifty left-handed scoop shot following a steal by Bull --- and the Hawks couldn’t get any clean looks the rest of the way on offense.
Hillcrest did have a chance to tie the game in the last 90 seconds, but Javery Johnson misfired on a 3-point try and Gibson cashed in on 4 straight free throws to seal the win.
“That makes 2 nights in a row that we handled our business in the fourth quarter,” Ellis pointed out. “That’s one of the top 10 teams in the state and they definitely tested our defense today. But when we got down by 12, we didn’t panic.”