With about 3½ minutes left in the second quarter of Tuesday's Waukegan sectional semifinal, Loyola guard Matt Lynch looked at Evanston's defense sitting back in a zone and just held the ball.
He held it for a while. More than a minute went off the clock before Evanston snapped into its trapping man-to-man.
Loyola trailed 24-23 at the time. Since no one really expected the No. 5 seed Ramblers to compete with No. 1 Evanston anyway, why not just leave the score where it was?
The strategy worked temporarily. Evanston's lead was a narrow 29-28 at halftime, but the Wildkits opened the third quarter with a big run and went on to win 71-45.
Evanston advanced to Friday's sectional title game, where it will face the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between No. 2 seed Notre Dame and No. 6 Waukegan.
"I give our guys credit for digging in and locking in at halftime, saying, 'This isn't us.' And they were able to reverse that in the second half," Evanston coach Mike Ellis said. "Early on, they got some transition baskets that hurt us, unguarded layups. In the second half we guarded all shots, so that was the difference in the turnaround."
The Wildkits began the third quarter with an efficient 12-0 run, basically five possessions of stop and score, with a couple of 3-pointers tossed in. When it ended, Evanston led 41-28 and the outcome was never in much doubt after that.
Evanston's 6-7 Nojel Eastern, a Purdue signee, led the way with 17 points, but he wasn't much of a factor early. It's easy to get overlooked in the Wildkits' deep lineup. Evanston uses an eight-man rotation, including three sophomores, and everyone contributes.
Senior guard Malcolm Townsel added 16 points, while senior Chris Hamil went 4-for-5 from 3-point range for 12 points.
"We don't have to stare down one guy on offense," Ellis said. "We just hit the open man, move the basketball. Nojel was spectacular out of the post tonight. Friday night, he might be spectacular out at the point.
"That's the security blanket of having a player like Nojel Eastern is you can move him around like a chess match on the floor and put him in situations to have that type of success."
Loyola's Julian DeGuzman, a 6-3 senior center, got off to an amazing start, scoring 16 points in the first half on 8 of 10 shooting. DeGuzman took advantage of Evanston's aggressive defense, shaking loose for several backdoor layups. DeGuzman finished with 19 points and was Loyola's only player in double figures.
After the game, DeGuzman talked about Evanston's third-quarter push, which led to the 42-17 advantage in the second half.
"We knew that we could win. We knew we could get it done," he said. "Unfortunately, they hit a lot of shots, we weren't making a lot of shots. They did everything right. We did some things wrong. We braced ourselves, we were ready for it. We just got cold. Can't really do anything about that."