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Wildkits hold off Niles West in 2nd half

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You couldn’t help wondering if Evanston head basketball coach Mike Ellis was forcing a smile when he posed for pictures with the eight departing seniors on the roster following the Wildkits’ final conference game Friday night at Beardsley Gym.

Not that Ellis won’t miss the current group of players, of course. But after watching a 17-point halftime lead melt away to just six points in the fourth quarter, Ellis and Co. had to regroup before the celebration of Senior Night could begin in earnest.

That’s the kind of comeback that could wipe the grin off any coach’s face, as the Kits held on for a 54-43 triumph over Niles West that capped a second place overall finish in Central Suburban League South division play.

All eight seniors on the roster scored for the winners, but it was the seven points stashed in by junior post player Elijah Henry in the fourth period (he scored a game-high 16) that pushed Evanston’s record to 18-8 on the season overall.

Henry only played about half of the contest, but converted 6-of-10 field goal attempts and grabbed 6 rebounds. His dunk — set up by the penetration and pass by senior C.J. Singletary — helped seal the victory after Niles West (6-16 overall, 1-9 CSL South) had closed to within 48-42 with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining in the game.

Senior Will Jones added 15 points and 6 rebounds for Evanston.

“It wasn’t pretty, but tonight belonged to the seniors,” said Ellis of his decision to keep the 6-foot-5 Henry on the bench the entire third period. “We thought the seniors were the ones who deserved to play most tonight. Elijah has been a very productive player for us this year, and we’re confident that will continue.

“I really wasn’t worried in the second half. We knew that Niles West wasn’t going to give up and I didn’t think we’d win by 20 points tonight. I expected it to be tougher than it was at their place (69-60 Evanston win). Niles West came out determined to play better in the second half, and we needed to do a better job of being focused in the second half.”

The Wildkits built an impressive 29-12 halftime edge, then lost that edge with plenty of “empty” possessions in the third quarter. They missed 7 of their first 8 field goal attempts, and turned the ball over 5 times in the quarter and only a drive by Jones in the final 30 seconds of the period maintained a 36-27 advantage for the home team.

Back-door baskets by West’s Evan Hines and Romeo Magloire (14 points) shaved that deficit to 48-42 at the 2:07 mark. But a dunk by Henry and four straight free throws by senior guard Nibra White sent the seniors out winners in their final home appearance.

The Wildkits will wrap up the regular season Tuesday with a CSL crossover game at Maine West. Ellis and Co. earned the No. 3 seed for the Class 4A Maine South Sectional complex — behind Loyola Academy and Maine South — and will open regional tournament play at Maine East on March 4th at 6 p.m. against the Foreman-Lake View winner.

Also in the regional field are No. 6 seed Notre Dame and No. 12 Maine East. Winner of the Maine East Regional faces the Niles North Regional champion in the sectional semifinals.

“Starting with the crossover game next week, we just want to get on a good run now,” Ellis said. “I’m a big believer that sometimes momentum comes when you take care of the little things, not to worry so much about the bigger picture and what you can’t control. To me, that’s what leads to momentum (in the postseason).”

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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