If things go according to plan it could be a very special March in Evanston. Northwestern might play its first NCAA Tournament game and the Wildkits could be playing for a state title. They have Purdue-bound guard Nojel Eastern and a deep, talented, experienced squad.
Evanston’s playoff road has been more rugged than it appears on paper. The first three opponents were grinder teams, hard-working groups that make everything difficult. The Wildkits handled Deerfield and Niles West last week. They used a dominant second half to beat Loyola 71-45 on Tuesday in the Class 4A Waukegan Sectional Semifinal.
“Those grinder teams don’t beat themselves, you have to win those games,” Evanston coach Mike Ellis said. “Fortunately our guys are focused right now and willing to put in the work. They are playing very well together.”
Eastern led the Wildkits (27-3) with 17 points and five rebounds. He asserted himself in the post in the second half.
“Throughout his career we’ve been blessed that we can let matchups dictate where he plays on the floor,” Ellis said. “If you put a smaller guy on him he’ll try to take you down to the post. If you put some size on him he’ll use his ball handling out front to create plays.”
Loyola (22-9) trailed just 29-28 at the half but managed only two field goals in the second half.
“Our seniors just realized that we wanted to be back here on Friday, that this shouldn’t be our last game,” Evanston senior Malcolm Townsel said. “We focused on defense, we played harder as a team and moved the ball better.”
Townsel finished with 16 points. He scored Evanston’s first 10 points and 14 in the first nine minutes of the game.
“I was trying to be aggressive and play within the flow of the offense,” Townsel said. “They were packing it in and guarding [Chris Hamil] real tight. That left some holes open. I just got into the open areas.”
Hamil scored 12 and Ryan Bost added eight for Evanston. Guards Jaheim Holden (five points) and Lance Jones (seven points) are two of the area’s most impressive sophomores. They’ve improved throughout the season and their skills allowed Eastern to spend more time in the post.
“We talked at halftime, there was nothing magical said,” Ellis said. “The difference in the two halves is our will was stronger than our will in the first half.”
Senior Julian DeGuzman led Loyola with 19 points and six rebounds. Jimmy Alexopoulos and Kai Khasu each scored seven.
The Wildkits will face the winner of Notre Dame vs. Waukegan in the sectional final on Friday.
“We are looking forward to either team,” Eastern said. “It’s playoffs. You always have to come out and compete, play hard and use your talent.”Tags: Evanston, Loyola