Evanston denies Stevenson a trip to state
It's been gnawing at the Wildkits.
It's been on their minds.
"Honestly, it hasn't been in the back of my mind, I think it's been right on the top of my head," Evanston senior guard Ryan Bost said. "Every game, I'm just thinking about getting back to Peoria. Literally every game, every practice, every minute of the day. It's all about Peoria. That's where we've been trying to go for four years and we got there once and now we just want to go back and finish what we started last year."
Returning to the state finals in Peoria and finishing business this time has been the driving force behind the Wildkits' 31-win season this year.
The idea has kept them focused, and it has given them fire and passion, all of which was required Tuesday for Evanston to outlast Stevenson 57-45 in a topsy-turvy overtime game at the Class 4A Sears Centre supersectional in Hoffman Estates.
The Wildkits, who are now 31-4 on the season and will face Rockford East (a 70-62 supersectional winner over Geneva in DeKalb) in the 5:30 p.m. semifinal on Friday, won this same game last year. They defeated Lake Zurich at the Sears Centre to go downstate to Peoria.
But they then lost their semifinal to Whitney Young before rebounding to defeat Larkin in the third-place game.
"Every day, we've talked about what it will take to not just get to Peoria, but actually win it," senior guard Jaheim Holden said. "But we don't just talk about it. Our actions show it, that every time we step on the floor, we're playing for one another."
The cohesiveness and togetherness of Evanston's full-court press and pressure defense may have been the X-factor.
Down 26-16 at halftime, Evanston stuck on a full-court press in the third quarter that stymied Stevenson. The Patriots, who finish their season with a 27-6 record, had nine straight turnovers and were shut out for more than four minutes before Luke Chieng finally scored on a driving layup with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots had a total of 13 turnovers in the quarter and were just 2-of-5 from the field.
Overall on the night, Evanston forced Stevenson into a whopping 31 turnovers, its most forced turnovers in a game this season.
"They sped us up a lot in that third quarter," Chieng said. "We just needed to play our pace and not let them speed us out of control.
"They are very athletic and they play a very good press and we're not the greatest speed team or the strongest team so it really drove us out a little bit. We know we can play better than that and it's just sad that they controlled that third quarter."
As much as Evanston controlled and dominated the third quarter, its lead was just 4 points heading into the fourth quarter, 34-30.
The Patriots then opened the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run to go up 36-34 with about five minutes left.
After some back and forth, the game was tied at 42-42 with 11.9 seconds left. Stevenson had the ball and junior guard Matthew Ambrose took a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer that looked good, but it rimmed out to force the overtime.
Evanston then ran out 10 straight points to start overtime and held Stevenson to just one field goal (1-for-11 in overtime), a 3-pointer by Chieng, who led Stevenson in scoring with 12 points.
The Patriots also got 11 points from Ambrose and 9 points from Robert Holmes.
The Wildkits, who outscored Stevenson 15-3 in overtime, got a game-high 18 points out of Southern Illinois recruit Lance Jones, 13 points from Bost and 10 points from Holden.
"We struggled to handle the ball (in the third quarter), and had too many turnovers, but our kids fought back," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "I thought there was a possibility that (3-point) shot would go in for Matthew but it just didn't. The missed shots are one thing, it's just frustrating all of our turnovers."
Evanston coach Mike Ellis said that his team made quite a statement with such a dominating defensive effort against a team the caliber of Stevenson.
"You're not talking about 31 turnovers against a team that has three bigs on the floor and only one point guard. That team (Stevenson) has four point guards on the floor," Ellis said. "For us to turn four point guards over 31 times just speaks to the will to win. That tells you (our) will to win."