After two starting guards fouled out and another guard who had earlier played in the junior varsity game — Ariel Logan — reached her limit for minutes played in one night, Evanston basketball coach Brittanny Johnson didn’t have many backcourt options left Tuesday night against Oak Park-River Forest.

She turned to the player with the lowest profile on the varsity roster, and Amena Alexander raised that profile considerably while helping deliver a 52-46 non-conference victory for the Wildkit girls at Beardsley Gym.

The seldom-used junior contributed two key free throws and three offensive rebounds down the stretch as the Kits claimed their 15th win of the season and improved to 15-8 overall.

Johnson couldn’t even remember the last time Alexander played in a game. She’s been sidelined for the past two weeks with concussion symptoms and has fallen behind in the ETHS rotation behind two sophomores — Logan and recently promoted Tyler Mayne, who is currently on the injured list — who weren’t on the varsity roster before the season started.

“Back in November, we would have lost a game like this. It signifies how much a team has grown when you can pull a kid off the bench and have them make significant plays like Amena did tonight,” Johnson said. “I had no one else to go to tonight, but I knew Amena would come through. I’ve really loved coaching her this season, and it’s just crazy to think she could come in cold like that and swish two pretty important free throws.

“When her feet are set, and she’s under control, she’s actually one of the better shooters on the team. But I don’t think she ever expected to even get in tonight. It’s a great moment for her, and I’m happy for her because she worked hard for it.”

Alexander stepped in cold after starters TaMia Banks and Amaiya Johnson both fouled out during Oak Park’s fourth quarter comeback from what was once a 13-point deficit. ETHS was still clinging to a one-point (45-44) edge when Oak Park’s Asha Spencer (game-high 17 points) split a pair of free throws with 3 minutes, 57 seconds remaining.

The Kits decided to hold the ball against the Huskies’ 2-3 zone defense at that point, only to see Alexander launch a 3-point shot that misfired badly from the left wing. But the hosts recovered the rebound — and Alexander didn’t make another mistake. Her two free throws with 1:23 on the clock was the start of a 6-for-6 showing by the winners at the free throw line, as both Kayla Henning and SyAnn Holmes converted both ends of super bonus opportunities to help the Kits pull away.

Evanston, in fact, didn’t score a single basket in the fourth quarter but went 12-of-17 at the charity stripe in the final period.  For the game, the Kits sank 22-of-31 attempts, a marked improvement from the first half of the season.

Holmes and center Ambrea Gentle each scored 11 points for ETHS, and Delaney Brooks tallied 9. Oak Park (9-13 overall) was paced by Spencer with 17 and Faith Smith with 16.

“I  think we’re coming to the end of this stretch of injuries we’ve had recently, and  I expect to get a couple more girls back soon,” Johnson said. “We’ve been able to squeeze out some wins and I’m really proud of the way we’ve stepped up as a team. We’ve definitely put some more responsibility on girls that haven’t played much all season, and their response has been just great.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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