After beating Waukegan 61-32 on Feb. 14, the Evanston Township High School boys basketball team looked to close out the Central Suburban League South Conference schedule on a strong note when the Wildkits took on Niles West on Feb. 21 on Senior Night at Beardsley Gym in Evanston.
The Kits did just that, beating the Wolves 54-43. They jumped out to a 25-9 second-quarter lead behind 9 points from junior Elijah Henry. To close out the half, the Kits added two more baskets, and the Wolves hit a 3-pointer to make it 29-12 at halftime.
After the break the Wolves came out strong, outscoring the Kits 13-2 in the first six minutes of the third quarter to get within 6 points, 31-25, with two minutes and seven seconds left in the quarter. But a 3-point play from senior Will Jones extended the Kits’ lead back to 9 at 34-25 with a minute and a half remaining in the third quarter to end the Wolves’ threat. Jones added another basket at the end of the quarter after two Niles West free throws, to give the Kits a 36-27 lead heading to the final stanza.
In the fourth, Henry scored 6 points, including a dunk in the final two minutes that proved to be the knockout punch. It put the Kits up 50-42, to help them hold on for the 54-43 victory, allowing the eight seniors on the roster to celebrate one last victory at Beardsley Gym.
“I thought we played good in spurts and bad in spurts. I think we could have done a better job of playing for 32 minutes,” said Head Coach Mike Ellis. “That is what we expected out of Niles West. They are a well-coached team and they play hard. So that comeback in the second half was something we expected.”
Coach Ellis said, “It definitely was not an easy win and a quick victory – we had to fight for it – and that is what we expect from Niles West.” He added, “They are a team that gets better as the season goes on. They were really young to start the year out and now they are a little older. That is a challenge we had to get through and be at the top of our game, and we were fortunate to come out ahead.”
Henry led the Kits with 16 points and six rebounds, and Jones added 15 points and six rebounds for the victors. The coach said, “Elijah [Henry] is one of those guys that makes us go. He is solid on defense, solid on offense, and he is a force inside. … I thought our guys did a good job trying to find him and get him going. He should credit his teammates for the success that he had [against Niles West].”
With the victory, the Kits improved to 18-8 overall and were set to take on Maine West on Feb. 25 in the season finale. After that, the Kits will participate in the IHSA Class 4A Maine East Regional as part of the Maine South Sectional, where they are the No. 3 seed. The Kits will open Regional play on March 4 where they take on the winner of the Foreman and Lake View game. Should the Kits win, they will play for the Regional championship on March 7 against the winner of the Notre Dame and Maine East matchup.
Heading into the postseason, Coach Ellis knows what his team must do in order to be successful. “Basically,” he said, “like we told the team: The team that is the most focused is going to win the Regional and win the Sectional, so we have to do the little things. …[T]o win the Regional, we have to focus on the little things and not get caught [looking] ahead to the big picture.”
The coach added, “We just have to break the game down, possession by possession. It is playoff basketball. If you lose you go home. So it’s coming around where our goal is to win the Regional. In order to win the Regional, we are going to have to play solid defense, team offense and execute. What it is going to come down to is our execution.”
If the Kits are indeed able to execute and “do the little things,” there is no telling how far they can go in the postseason.