While all of the preseason attention for the 2017-18 version of the Evanston Wildkits focused on the junior trio of Lance Jones, Jaheim Holden and Ryan Bost, senior big man Matt Hall may be the most important piece for Evanston’s success this season.
Hall led Evanston in their 62-42 win over Zion-Benton with seven points, 13 rebounds, two assists and three blocks, proving that hard work and patience does eventually pay off.
“It’s been a transition from last year,” said Hall. “Having guys depend on me to score and grab the majority of the boards puts me in a leadership role and is making me better as a basketball player.”
“I expected him to be good. Over the summer he’s worked hard and trained non-stop,” added Hall’s teammate Jaheim Holden. “I saw him in the gym all the time, working on his shot, in the weight room, getting stronger. He’s a really big piece for us.”
Evanston jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a wide range of contributors. Holden and Jones did the bulk of the scoring both inside and out, while Hall was there to cleanup on the glass.
“Without question Matt Hall was the difference in the game tonight,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “He was very steady from tip to finish. He stabilized us on the interior with his defensive rebounding and the put backs on the offensive end.”
After their initial outburst, Evanston had plenty of opportunities to extend their lead before the half, but they would ultimately have to settle for a 33-22 advantage going into the break.
Though Evanston may have struggled putting the game out of reach earlier, the Wildkits had no such issues in the second half.
Highly touted freshman Blake Peters came out firing to start the half even after sitting for most of the first half with two fouls. Peters would hit three, three pointers during the third quarter which gave Evanston a commanding 55-31 lead.
“He’s the most confident freshman I’ve seen,” said Holden “Coach tells him to shoot the ball and if he doesn’t the ball shoot he’s coming out. He works on it too much not to. That’s a big piece for us, him being able to shoot the ball like that really opens it up for us.”
Evanston never let up in the fourth quarter as the Wildkits were able to empty their bench with over three minutes left in the game. The strong finish Evanston was a far cry from their game against Niles North less than a week ago, showing that the young Wildkits continue to improve.
“We talked about how at Niles North we failed to play better in the second half, then at St. Joes we did play better in the second half,” said Coach Ellis. “We have to continue to not be happy with one good half. I think they really locked into that message and did a great job of coming out in the second half better than they were in the first 16 minutes.”
In addition to Hall’s all-around great performance, Holden paced the Wildkits in scoring with 16 points. Zion-Benton were led by freshman Amar Augillard with 11 in the loss.