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No high school basketball coach in the state of Illinois focuses on the immediate task of winning a game more than Mike Ellis.

But you can’t really accuse the Evanston coach of looking ahead too far, not on the day when the Wildkits learned they’ll own the No. 1 seed for the Class 4A Waukegan Sectional tournament. So with the postseason looming, Ellis used the last five and one-half minutes of Friday’s Central Suburban League South division finale against Maine South as sort of a practice session.

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The Wildkits turned to a seldom-used strategy so far this season — a spread offense — with mixed results down the stretch before pulling out a 57-46 triumph over the Hawks at Beardsley Gym.

Evanston, now 22-3 on the season, completed a perfect season against league foes and remained unbeaten at home by attempting only 6 field goals in the final period. Nojel Eastern (11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) delivered enough offense down the stretch and teammates Ryan Bost (11 points) and Elyjah Williams (10 points, 5 rebounds) also reached double figures for the winners.

Half of what was once a 17-point melted away from the Kits before three Eastern drives to the bucket secured a victory on Senior Night. But the switch in strategy made sense to the veteran coach, who has almost 300 career wins to his credit and knows that postseason success can depend on just how many options a team has to deal with end-of-game situations.

“Ballhandling and decision-making are the strengths of this team, and we’ll try to use those to the best of our ability,” Ellis said. “We had four guards on the floor in the fourth quarter who are all good decision-makers and good ballhandlers. We need to figure out if this is something we can execute down the line well, or not.

“We had to try it in a game because you can’t really generate that type of (game) intensity in practice. We knew Maine South would have to come out and get us, and we knew we had some mismatches on the floor. You have to have options and flexibility once you get into the postseason. If we’re using it, that will be a best case scenario — because that means we’re winning.”

The Wildkits wrapped up their third straight conference title with the win and will face Chicago Simeon on Saturday at the City-Suburban Shootout hosted by Robert Morris University in Arlington Heights. They’ll finish off the regular season next Wednesday when they host the CSL North division champ, Deerfield, in the CSL Showcase game.

Evanston used some offense from an unexpected source to build a 30-20 halftime lead. Bost entered the game later than usual due to a rotation that was adjusted to keep an all-senior lineup on the floor for most of the first half. But the sophomore guard made an immediate impact when he came into the game, netting all 11 points in the second quarter, including three straight 3-point baskets.

He entered the game averaging just 4.5 points per game and had only scored in double figures once prior to Friday night.
“Ryan came in and gave us some energy on defense, and it’s amazing how it works when you do that, because then you’re usually good on offense,” Ellis pointed out.

“Going undefeated in conference wasn’t a big goal for us this year and you could tell after the game that the guys weren’t that excited. I think they have their sights set on other things (postseason success). But they haven’t been beaten on their home court this year, and that’s a big deal for the seniors.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney

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

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