The mercy rule is back in Illinois high school boys and girls basketball for the 2018-19 season, but so far Evanston hasn’t shown much mercy at the St. Viator Thanksgiving Tournament.

The Wildkits put the running clock into effect in the fourth quarter of their third straight lopsided victory, a 65-37 drilling of Prospect Friday in the third round of the tourney. Evanston will meet another unbeaten, host St. Viator, on Saturday at 3 p.m. for the tournament championship.

Double figure performances from Lance Jones (13 points, 6 steals), Jaylin Gibson (11 points, 9 rebounds) and Jaheim Holden (11 points, 6 assists) highlighted another balanced effort for the winners, who led 59-29 after three quarters.

The Illinois High School Association re-instated the “mercy” rule — also referred to as the slaughter rule — for the regular season only this year. It applies only in the fourth quarter when one team has a 30-point lead, and the clock only stops for timeouts or injuries.

The IHSA  didn’t ask ETHS head coach Mike Ellis for his opinion. The veteran coach would have voted “No.”

“I’m not a big fan. I think it’s ridiculous,” Ellis said. “I understand the intent when you maybe have a powerhouse team going up against a team with only 7 players or something like that, and you don’t want a 90-7 embarrassment to last an hour and a half instead of an hour. But I also don’t want to see the reserves’ minutes taken away from them so we can go home 5 minutes earlier. I tried calling some timeouts just so I could get our guys some more playing time today.”

Reserves Jerome Smith, Demetris Barnett and Ethan Francis all scored in the last minute and a half with the clock winding down after the Knights had “closed” to within 59-37 against the Evanston backups in the final period.

Evanston started slow for the third game in a row, then forced 21 turnovers by Prospect’s beleaguered guards. Even with the traditional “hangover” effect the day after a holiday, the Kits displayed defensive tenacity well into the third period as the lead grew on the scoreboard.

“Prospect won the first 4 minutes of the game,” Ellis acknowledged, “and our guys could have easily settled into that pace of play. But instead they dug their feet in the ground and turned it up, and put more pressure on the ball without fouling. Before that, we were playing lazy instead of smart.

“This is the first game we didn’t get zoned (by enemy defenses) and our guys enjoyed the challenge of taking on a man-to-man defense. I think Lance Jones has really stepped up his game even though he’s been out for a month (concussion protocol). He looks like the Lance Jones we saw last March on our run to the state tournament. Even though he’s gotten his college scholarship, he’s still invested in what we’re doing and he’s not looking ahead to college.”

Jones notched his third straight double figure effort off the bench and helped push the Evanston lead to 35-17 at halftime. The Wildkits outscored Prospect  24-6 in the second quarter, including 3-point buckets by Jones, Itchy Holden and Ryan Bost to close out the half.

The winners racked up 24 points off turnovers and connected on over half of their shots (52 percent) for the third straight game.  

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

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