Through three quarters, it looked as though Evanston would get the revenge they were looking for after being bounced out of the playoffs by Whitney Young in super-sectionals last season.
The Wildkits led by three points at the end of the third quarter, but couldn’t hold off the Dolphins, whose 28 point fourth quarter put them in the 4A championship game for the second year in a row.
“We have made sure that the IHSA and all the fans were entertained,” said Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. “We allowed the game to get close but this is how we played the entire playoffs but the resiliency of these guys is what we are staking our claim on.”
Evanston got out of the gates quickly courtesy of their lone senior starter Matt Hall, whose eight point, nine rebound first half performance guided Evanston to a 27-20 halftime lead.
“Matt had an outstanding game, I’ve seen him play for four years and thats probably the best game I’ve seen him play,” said Slaughter. “Us taking him out of the game in the second half is ultimately what turned the tide.”
The only person keeping Whitney Young afloat was Javon Freeman, who scored more than half of his teams first half points while the rest of the Dolphins struggled to score the basketball.
Freeman (25 points, eight rebounds, four assists) continued his superior play to start the second half but also started to receive some contributions from the rest of his team to cut into the Wildkits lead.
Freeman said: “Getting to the basket is my strength. Coach told me to not do anything different and just get to the rim and play aggressive.”
“Guarding Javon was really tough, he’s a great player,” added Evanston guard Lance Jones. “I play with him for travel basketball so I know what he’s capable of, but he was tough to stay in front of tonight.”
Despite a quick opening passage of play from the Dolphins, Evanston settled back into the game thanks to the sharp-shooting freshman Blake Peters (23 points) whose three, third quarter three pointers helped Evanston maintain a slim lead going into the fourth quarter.
“I’ve seen Blake with as much confidence as any freshman who think they can make every shot,” said Evanston coach Mike Ellis. “Not just confidence but poise, is what separates Blake from the typical freshman.”
Unfortunately for the Wildkits, Whitney Young have been a battle tested group when it comes to playing from behind.
The Dolphins turned up their play a couple of notches, as they dropped a gaudy 28 points in the final quarter while holding Evanston’s offense to just three field goals.
“It was easy to see it was a tale of two halves,” said Ellis. “First half we were the more aggressive team but in the second half I though Whitney Young stepped up to a level that we were not at.”
Whitney Young would take the lead for good with a late three pointer from Jake Kosakowski as Tyler Beard, Freeman and a sterling defensive effort were enough to close out the game.
Whitney Young advances to the class 4A state title game for the second straight year, where they will face EJ Liddell and the Belleville West Maroons.
Despite being a regular in the state title game, coach Irvin likened the matchup to a “David vs. Goliath” battle, leaving some ambiguity on who would take up each role.
“Tomorrow is a situation of David vs. Goliath. We’re excited for the opportunity to play tomorrow. There is no doubt in my mind that that is an outstanding basketball team,” said Slaughter. “What I will tell everybody is that we well show up tomorrow evening at 7:00 and we’ll tell the rest of the story tomorrow.”