It was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
With the graduations of Nojel Eastern, Malcolm Townsel, and Elyjah Williams, Evanston entered the 2017/18 season as one of the youngest teams in the state with a lot of questions surrounding the young Wildkits squad.
Four months later, there aren’t many question anymore.
On Tuesday night, Evanston dismantled Lake Zurich, 78-52 to claim the Sears Center super-sectional title and advance to Peoria for the first time in a decade.
“With it being 10 years since we last went downstate and 50 years since our only state title, there’s some history with this team,” said Evanston coach Mike Ellis. “A lot of that credit goes to the Eastern’s, Townsel’s and Williams’ teaching these guys what it takes to win and they don’t figure that out without that group of seniors last year. Both groups deserve a lot of credit.”
Evanston took Lake Zurich out of the game right from the start. The Wildkits scorched the net, shooting seven from nine from three point land in the second quarter taking a 12 point halftime three.
Three of those three pointers came from the hands of Lance Jones (12 points) who isn’t necessarily known for his three point ability.
Jones said: “I just feel like I’ve been putting in a lot more work with my shot and I feel like I have a lot more confidence in my shot than I did at the start of the year.”
Hardly anything changed in the second half as Evanston continued their dominating display in the second half.
Evanston extended their lead to 20 points by the end of the third quarter behind an impressive defensive effort and Jaheim Holden’s game high 23 points.
The junior not only has increased his scoring output from a year ago, but has also stepped up to fill the leadership void which graduated with last years seniors.
“It was important to come in and try to be a leader,” said Holden. “I told coach at the end of last year that I would do everything in my power to get us back to this position and finish the job.”
The Wildkits put it into cruise control in the fourth quarter and were able to clear their bench by the midway point of the final frame leaving no doubt about the outcome of the game.
The win over Lake Zurich sets up a date with Whitney Young, who upset Simeon in their own super-sectional game. The Dolphins knocked off Evanston last year in the playoffs, a game in which this years Evanston team hasn’t forgotten.
“This is something we’ve been waiting for,” said Holden. “This is perfect for us, they eliminated us last year and it really hurt a lot so we’re going into the game with a chip on our shoulder and to get back what was taken from us.”
“We know Whitney Young is a really good team,” added Ellis. “To play Whitney Young is going to be a challenge for us but these guys have had challenges all year, so that’s what they’re used to. To be able to play your last day of the season, is just a special feeling.”
Evanston and Whitney Young are scheduled top tip-off in Peoria, Friday night at 7:15.