The calendar is about to turn the page to January and Evanston girls basketball fans know what that means.
It’s Jayla Turchin’s time.
Just like she did last year at this time of the season, the Evanston senior elevated her game Saturday afternoon and helped the Kits hold off upset-minded Loyola Academy 53-43.
Turchin’s 13 points, 5 rebounds and 1 blocked shot may not seem to have filled the stat sheet to the casual observer. But even elite teams like the Wildkits need a do-whatever-it-takes-type of player when the game is on the line.
Turchin delivered — with a block, a steal, a rebound, a deflected pass or just stout defense in the paint in addition to her 6 points in the fourth quarter — and looked more like the player who ended last season as a breakout performer than the player who started slow this year, still recovering from minor knee surgery.
All Evanston head coach Brittanny Johnson knows is that she’s glad to have Turchin back, especially with the Wildkits staring at a schedule that features back to back holiday tournaments at Montini and in Louisiana over the next two weeks.
Turchin’s all-around effort complemented a career-best 15 points from sophomore sharpshooter Lola Lesmond, and 10 points from Rashele Olantunbosun. The Wildkits trailed at halftime (29-27) for the first time this season, but Turchin refused to lose.
“I thought Jayla was the breakout player of the year in the state with the second half last year, and it’s great to see her doing it again,” said Johnson. “Jayla’s not at her best when she’s just scoring, she’s at her best when she’s blocking shots, rebounding and facilitating our offense like she does.
“I know she’s been frustrated and I pray for a feel-good game for her before every game. It’s been tough for her to fight through this, but above all, Jayla wants to win. I knew she’d get back to where she needed to be, and today was a step in a great direction for her.”
Turchin’s two breath-taking baseline drives in a one-possession game and two free throws were part of a fourth quarter surge by the visitors to break open a tight contest. Evanston’s defense finally clamped down in the second half, allowing the Rambers (7-6 overall) to connect on just 4-of-20 field goal attempts over the last two periods.
The Wildkits weren’t too interested in playing defense in the first half, either in the paint or at the 3-point stripe. Loyola sank 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half and most of those shots weren’t challenged.
That changed in the second half.
“We didn’t defend anything in the first half, and we didn’t rebound either,” Johnson said. “In the second half I thought we did a lot better job of guarding them. We forced them to shoot over us.
“We have been more of a second half team this year. Even in the games we’ve won by 20 or 30 points, we’ve only been up maybe 5 at halftime. You hope, especially with a senior-dominated team, that it wouldn’t be like that for us. We’re not doing a real good job of adjusting fast.
“I thought Lola (9 points) kept us in it in the first half. She had that foul trouble, but she’s learning and trying to grow every day as a player. Sometimes we foret that she’s only a sophomore who’s playing a lot of minutes.”
Evanston trailed 35-31 midway through the third quarter, but Lesmond fired in consecutive 3-pointers from the exact same spot on the right wing, and a drive by Olantunbosun for a layup with 5 seconds left in the quarter sent the visitors ahead at 41-35 after three quarters.
Loyola closed to within two points twice before the Wildkits, who didn’t close out the game against Maine South very well on Friday night with 8 missed free throws, responded with a 10-0 run to deny the Ramblers.
Loyola was led by Summer Parker Hall with 13 points.
Evanston resumes action on Dec. 26 at the Montini Holiday Tournament. Johnson’s squad will take on Batavia at 3 p.m.