No matter how many games are played in the future at the E-Town Showdown high school basketball event, they’ll never be able to top Saturday’s debut at Northwestern University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.
In an epic three overtime battle, Evanston outlasted Sussex (Wis.) Hamilton and NBA hopeful Patrick Baldwin Jr. 70-68 behind junior Daeshawn Hemphill’s two bonus free throws with 3.3 seconds left on the clock.
Evanston’s 5 outplayed Hamilton’s 1, even though Baldwin Jr.’s return to his hometown featured 25 points and 17 rebounds by the 6-foot-9 junior who is generally regarded as the top recruit in the Class of 2021 in the nation. It was one of the longest games in the history of the ETHS boys program.
“Every guy who played for us tonight made a contribution to that victory,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “I’m still not sure how we won that game, but there was always somebody who did something, whether it was a big shot, a rebound or a steal.
“I think our will to compete was what made the difference in the game tonight. It’s never always pretty with our guys, but you can see them wanting to make up for any mistakes they made, thinking let’s get a stop, let’s make a play. We were really united as a team. They all took turns making very bad plays, and they all took turns making very good plays.
“Our guys did a good job of keeping their composure, no matter what happened. They never let doubt creep in, and they continued to play hard for one another.”
Unable to close out a victory in regulation play --- in the first overtime --- or in the second overtime, the Wildkits finally prevailed when Hemphill rebounded a missed 3-point attempt by Hamilton’s Carson Smith and was fouled immediately.
He swished both free throws --- bringing his point total to just 4 on the night ---and the visitors from Wisconsin couldn’t get off a final shot.
Evanston improved to 23-3 on the season while Hamilton suffered just its second defeat in 17 games.
“We had our ups and downs tonight, but we never let the downs affect the way we play,” Hemphill pointed out. “We’re always looking ahead to the next shot, the next possession, we’re always moving ahead.
“I felt confident shooting those free throws at the end. At our shootaround today we had to make 50 free throws and I was 50 of 57. The real key to winning the game was that rebound I got. I’ve slowed down (points and rebound production) since the beginning of the season, and now I’m just trying to do anything I can to help our team win. I’m just here to win.”
“Here in the middle part of the season, Daeshawn has been in a little bit of a lull. But he’s come in early to work and he’s stayed late, and I’m glad to be able to see him turn that corner and get some confidence tonight,” Ellis said. “He put in the time, and he deserved that moment.
“Hamilton is a great, well-coached team and you’re not gonna shut down a player like Baldwin. He’s gonna score against you. He got his scoring average tonight and he had to play another quarter and a half to get it. No doubt about it, he’s a future (NBA) lottery pick. We just wanted to make someone else beat us.”
Evanston’s balance featured four players in double figures. Player of the Game Elijah Bull turned in another robust offensive performance with a team-high 19 points, along with 5 rebounds and 4 steals. Jaylin Gibson filled the stat sheet with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, and Blake Peters (14 points) and Isaiah Holden (13) also reached double figures for the Wildkits.
Evanston’s defense limited Baldwin Jr. to a total of 8 points in the fourth quarter and three overtime periods. Smith (13 points) and University of Minnesota football recruit Lucas Finnessy (12) were the Chargers’ other offensive leaders.
The Kits trailed 42-41 entering the fourth quarter, but led 52-49 in the final minute on a pair of free throws by Bull. Hamilton pulled even on a trey by Smith with 40 seconds left, and Evanston opted to hold for a final shot. But Peters’ contested 3-point try at the buzzer was off target, setting up the first OT.
Peters connected for a game-tying 3-pointer late in the first extra period and the Kits had an opportunity to win after Hemphill rebounded a missed shot. But Gibson was whistled for an offensive foul on his dash down the lane with 1.8 on the clock and that extended the contest to a 2nd OT.
Hamilton held for the final 60 seconds, hoping to get on the bus with a victory, but missed two field goal attempts in a quarter that ended at 62-all. ETHS outscored the Chargers 8-6 in the last overtime, wiping out a 68-66 deficit in the last 30 seconds on a drive to the hoop by Gibson and Hemphill’s game-winning free throws.