Chicago Simeon opened the City-Suburban Showdown Saturday night with a box-and-1 defense employed against Evanston basketball star Nojel Eastern.
Maybe if the two teams meet again next month in the Class 4A state championship game Simeon will try a box-and 1 again — against Malcolm Townsel or Chris Hamil.
Evanston spanked Simeon 56-38 in front of a crowd of 1,500 at Robert Morris University in Arlington Heights as the two seniors combined for 35 points and lifted the Wildkits to a signature victory over a program that has accounted for seven state titles overall.
The one-sided triumph should convince any doubters that the Kits, now 23-3, aren’t just Eastern and a supporting cast. And they’re on the short list of serious contenders for a trip to the Final Four in Peoria.
Townsel’s game-high 20 points and stifling defense against Simeon guard Kezo Brown were key ingredients in what turned out to be another typical, well-balanced effort by the Wildkits. And for Townsel, a transfer from Whitney Young to ETHS this season, it was a chance for some payback against one of the most highly-regarded programs in the state.
When he played for Young, Townsel did compete for a team that beat the Wolverines for the city frosh-soph championship. But last season Simeon held the upper hand twice against the Dolphins.
“That’s a very good team, and I know their players pretty well through the AAU circuit,” said Townsel, who sank 7-of-12 field goal attempts and converted all 6 of his free throw tries. “I just tried to step my game up tonight. This might have been my best game overall, passing and scoring. And I haven’t played against Brown before. He’s a great player, who can shoot or drive, and I just had to use my length against him as best I could.
“I thought I’d have more opportunities in the lane and on the baseline tonight if they played that box-and-1, and I did. I just tried to be aggressive and help our team. We’ve done a good job of showing we have a balanced attack all season. People should see that we’re more than just Nojel, as great as he is. But we can’t get comfortable as a team. We’re at the point where we have to continue to work hard and we have to continue on an upper trajectory.”
“We’ve seen the box-and-1 before and it’s not something that will cause our guys to panic,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “That defense opened up the middle for Malcolm and you could see how much he wanted it tonight.
“Our offense was just as good as our defense tonight, and our guys did an outstanding job playing with poise all night. Simeon is known for getting on (scoring) runs, but for the most part we were able to eliminate any runs for them.
“We knew there were extenuating factors for this game (Simeon played a city championship semifinal game Friday and will play for the title on Sunday) and that contributed to the way we played at the start. We wanted to come out strong and make it (the schedule) a factor for them, and we did a good job of that.”
For the winners, Hamil added 15 points on 5-of-7 marksmanship from 3-point range. Eastern was limited to 4 points on 1-of-7 shooting — including two missed dunk attempts — but his team-high 9 rebounds helped the Kits to a 34-27 advantage on the boards.
“One of the things we had on the scouting report was that we had to keep them off the boards. We may not be the tallest team, but we play fundamental basketball and we know how to box out,” said Eastern. “Tonight was not my best performance, but my teammates stepped up, just like I knew they would. It’s not about one person here, it’s about the brotherhood we’ve built.”
Simeon, now 23-3, only connected on 34 percent (16-of-47) from the floor. Brown was the only player in double figures with 16 points, and 10 of them came in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach.
ETHS seized a 30-20 halftime lead and never looked back, outscoring the Wolves 16-8 in the third quarter.
How whipped were the Wolverines? They let sophomore guard Lance Jones dribble out the entire last two minutes of the contest without coming out of their zone to challenge him.
“I don’t know if this was our best game because I think it might’ve been that one we lost on a tip-in at the buzzer (in the championship game of the holiday tournament at Myrtle Beach),” said Ellis. “It was good for us to go through that experience in that game because we knew coming in tonight what it would take for us to win a game like this.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.