Malcolm Townsel wasn’t sure how he’d fit in when he moved to Evanston from the city of Chicago. But the quickest way to make an impression on Evanston’s basketball team was simple — play the kind of man-to-man defense that head coach Mike Ellis relishes.
Townsel did just that Monday night, and was one of four starters in double figures as the Wildkits destroyed Libertyville 75-53 in the first round of the Saint Viator Thanksgiving Tournament.
Townsel’s defense on Libertyville star Drew Peterson helped the winners turn a 19-5 deficit into a 31-24 halftime advantage and the Kits cruised to victory behind Nojel Eastern (19 points, 13 rebounds), Chris Hamil (13 points), Townsel (12 points) and Elyjah Williams (10 points, 7 rebounds).
Townsel, a 6-foot-4 senior who was one of the top reserves on Whitney Young’s squad a year ago, could be the defensive stopper that the Kits can turn to against a schedule loaded with top opponents this winter.
He showed that ability Monday when he limited Peterson to just two field goal attempts in a scoreless second quarter after the 6-7 Libertyville junior had torched ETHS for 11 points in the first quarter. Peterson broke loose for 10 more points in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 21, but by then Evanston already had the game under control.
“Malcolm was a real discovery for us tonight,” Ellis said. “We weren’t quite sure who we could count on to defend the other team’s feature player, and we really needed his defense tonight. I told our guys that he was the difference between being down 16 or 17 points and having the lead at halftime.
“He’s a very smart player and he had the discipline to treat every catch Peterson got like it was a 15-footer, even though he was shooting from way out. It took a lot of physical effort and a lot of thinking for him to get the job done. It was great to see him step up and be able to contribute like that in his first game for us. That was impressive.”
“I really pride myself on my defense, and I think my length helped guard him (Peterson) tonight,” Townsel said. “He’s a great player who can really shoot it, and I just wanted to use my length to force him to shoot more fadeaways. I just tried to keep him off-balance as much as I could.
“I really worked hard to get this opportunity and God blessed me with the chance to prove myself. This is a boost in confidence for me and a boost in the confidence my teammates have for me now. Evanston has a great basketball program and I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in here. I’m just trying to understand the ins and outs of the system and trying to click with everyone so they know what I’ll give to them all game long.”
Townsel wasn’t the only one to make a successful debut in a Wildkit uniform. Sophomores Jaheim Holden and Lance Jones, who earned a promotion to the varsity at the end of last year after leading the sophomore team to an undefeated record, combined for 13 assists Monday night, 8 off the bench from Holden.
As a team, the Wildkits were credited with 20 assists on their 28 baskets, a display of team play that helped them shoot 48 percent (28-of-58) from the field.
Leading 31-24 at halftime, Evanston stretched the lead to 52-38 after three quarters as Hamil burned the Libertyville 1-2-2 zone defense with three straight 3-point baskets from the corners.
“I’m sure if you asked Chris, he’d tell you he wasn’t happy with his shooting performance in the first half,” Ellis pointed out. “Especially when he didn’t miss a shot in the first two weeks of our training camp. I’m proud of him because he was able to put it behind him and he was able to come back and lead us with that spurt he had.”
The Wildkits will face host St. Viator, a 63-49 loser to Highland Park, in the second round Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.