CENTRALIA — Lance Jones hit the first game-winning shot of his high school basketball career. Jaheim Holden proved he can close out games in the fourth quarter — even without the usual flair.
Freshman Blake Peters and senior Harry Porter notched single game career-highs in points, and the 75th annual Centralia Holiday Tournament had something for everyone as Evanston returned to the southern Illinois tourney for the first time in 38 years last week.
The Wildkits bounced back from their worst game of the season — a 61-47 loss to Champaign Central in the second round — to score consecutive wins on Saturday over host Centralia (55-50) and Mundelein Carmel (66-64) and bring home the 5th place trophy.
Jones beat the final buzzer with a 16-foot jump shot that delivered the win over Carmel and will send the Kits into the New Year with an 11-3 overall record. Evanston held the ball for the final 60 seconds and put the ball in the junior guard’s hands with the game on the line.
“When I did my crossover (dribble), that’s what created enough space for me to pull up,” said Jones, who was selected to the all-tournament second team. “I decided to do that because they had the middle clogged up. It’s my first game-winning shot in high school and it feels excellent.
“I think we still have a lot of things we can improve on as a team, but we also learned a lot from our mistakes this week.”
Jones’ shot from the right wing was the difference in a game where the lead changed hands 6 times and was tied twice in the fourth quarter. He finished with 13 points to back up Holden and Peters with 22 points apiece, with Peters scoring a career-high behind 4-of-8 marksmanship from 3-point range.
“Lance had the option on that play to take it all the way to the basket,” said ETHS coach Mike Ellis, “but he made a good read and he knew he couldn’t go all the way. The defender gave him just enough cushion to get the shot off, because I think he was afraid Lance would blow right by him.
“We could just has easily have finished 1-2 here. We had to find ways to win today and we did it — twice. We’ve got 11 wins now and I’m thrilled to be there with the new and inexperienced group we have on the floor this year.”
Evanston’s growing pains weren’t cured completely by the 3-1 tourney effort. Execution and discipline are still foreign concepts to some of the varsity newcomers, and some of the veterans, too.
“Sometimes I feel like we take 2 steps forward and 2 steps backward,” Ellis said. “There are still too many ups and downs for this team. We’re going to demand more discipline from them going forward. I want so much more from them.”
Holden’s ability to close out games in the fourth quarter along with his running mate, Jones, was a key factor in all three Wildkit wins, including a 68-59 triumph over O’Fallon in the tourney opener. He regained his starting job in the backcourt by netting 9 of his total 15 points versus O’Fallon in the final period, and performed well in the clutch in the fourth quarter versus Centralia (7 points) and Carmel (5), too.
The junior southpaw has subtracted some of the dash and flash and has helped ETHS add on more close wins as a result this year.
“Jaheim is a little more disciplined this year,” Ellis praised. “He understands now that it’s all about winning. He’s trying to make the plays that will lead us to a victory, and it’s not necessary for him to stand out on the stat sheet for us to win.”
ETHS eliminated host Centralia in an early morning matchup on Saturday. The Orphans took a 45-44 lead on a baseline drive by Bryan Meskil midway through the fourth quarter, before the Kits responded with an 11-5 run that sealed the win over the final 3 minutes, 11 seconds. Leading scorers for the winners were Holden (15 points), Porter with 11 and Peters with 10. Porter, a senior who didn’t see much action prior to the tournament, connected on 3-of-6 field goals from 3-point distance.
Ellis used the word “debacle” to describe the quarterfinal loss to eventual tournament runner-up Champaign Central. Enough said, as the Wildkits fell behind by 20 points in the fourth quarter before a late surge made the final score more respectable.
“I’m not sure they understood how locked in we had to be to beat a team as good as Champaign Central,” the coach added. “We didn’t have the focus and the intensity we had in the other games.”
Evanston shot just 8-of-30 from beyond the 3-point arc and was paced by Jones and Peters with 10 points apiece.
In the tournament opener against O’Fallon, Jones and Holden combined for 21 of their team’s 28 points in the fourth quarter. Jones netted 22 points to lead
ETHS, which also got a major contribution from Ryan Bost with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals.
The Wildkits are back in action on Friday when they host Niles West at 7 p.m. in a Central Suburban League South division contest.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.