Evanston’s basketball team closed out the regular season with eight straight victories and played some of its best basketball of the year during that stretch.
It took the Wildkits three-quarters of Tuesday’s Class 4A Regional tournament semifinal game at Niles West to approach that level of play again. Then the Kits flipped a switch and outscored host Niles West 17-5 in the final period, easing to an eventual 55-35 victory.
With 6-foot-6 senior post player Elyjah Williams exploding for 11 points in the fourth quarter — including a pair of rim-rattling dunk shots — Evanston advanced to Friday’s regional championship contest. The Wildkits, now 25-3 overall, will face either Maine South or Deerfield for the title at 7 p.m.
The Kits were never really seriously challenged by a Niles West team that they demolished twice during the regular season. West was hoping to salvage an upset for retiring head coach Bob Williams and only trailed 38-30 entering the fourth quarter before top-seeded Evanston regained that championship form.
Williams finished with a game-high 17 points and 9 rebounds, while Chris Hamil added 13 points (and 3 impressive blocked shots) and Malcolm Townsel netted 12 points for the winners.
“We played really well over the last three weeks of the regular season, but we were not sharp tonight,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “It’s a different stage now (in the postseason). I thought we did a really good job of picking up our level of play in the second half.
“We did a solid job of locking up on them defensively, and held them to 35 points. That’s a team that probably averages between 55 and 60 points and they’re very skilled offensively.”
Niles West shot just 27 percent (14-of-51) from the floor, including 3-of-18 from 3-point range. When the Wolves got close to the basket, Evanston responded with a season-high 9 blocked shots led by Hamil and Nojel Eastern with 3 blocks apiece.
Williams, one of the best unsigned seniors in the state of Illinois, scored a basket and two free throws in the first quarter but then picked up two personal fouls. He didn’t score again until the third quarter, when he put back a missed shot and helped ETHS to that 38-30 advantage.
Williams then accounted for 11 of his team’s 17 points in the fourth quarter, hammering down emphatic dunks on feeds from Eastern and Lance Jones to help account for the final 20-point margin.
“We needed to get Elyjah more touches tonight,” Ellis said. “We didn’t recognize enough that it was easy for him to have an advantage underneath, and that made it more difficult for us as a team.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.