Evanston’s defense pulled off a season-high 20 steals Thursday and the unbeaten Wildkits blitzed Cahokia 70-34 in the first round of the 77th annual Centralia Holiday Tournament.

Blake Peters (5), Isaiah Holden (4) and Rashawn Bost (3) all registered multiple steals in a one-sided contest in which ETHS head coach Mike Ellis employed most of his starters for just half of the game.

Evanston, now 10-0, will face Mundelein Carmel in the quarterfinals on Friday at 2 p.m. Carmel defeated Champaign Central 67-63 in another upper bracket contest. The Wildkits could meet Belleville West in Saturday’s semifinals in what would be a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state championship game.

Peters (17 points) and Jaylin Gibson (13) were the only Wildkits to reach double figures as the defense delivered more than the offense. The winners shot just 40 percent (28-of-70) from the field, but gained plenty of extra possessions with 20 steals and a total of 22 Cahokia turnovers.

”We didn’t make many shots today, but our guys showed up ready to play right from the start,” praised head coach Mike Ellis. “We got off to a big lead, and to be honest, it wasn’t a crisp game after that.

“We gave them the choice of leaving at 5 o’clock this morning or 4 o’clock yesterday, and it’s to their credit that they have so much invested in this season that they gave up time with their families to be with their teammates yesterday. They have earned the right to make that choice, in my opinion.

“On defense, we play a lot of guards who are active and get a lot of deflections, and we’ve put a real value on defending and getting successive stops. In our man-to-man defense we give them the flexibility to be opportunistic, on whether to rotate to the ball and double team or not, and they’ve done a great job so far of recognizing those situations. They’re playing intelligent basketball and having (transfers) Elijah Bull and Daeshawn Hemphill come in here has really solidified us on both offense and defense.”

Evanston scored 16 points off turnovers and led 44-20 at the halftime intermission. Bull and Hemphill both contributed 7 points and Jerome Smith and Holden added 5 apiece.

Cahokia was led by Antwan Baker with 10 points.

Dennis Mahoney

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

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