Mike Ellis wasn’t ready to say his basketball team is back on track — not completely, anyway.
But an inspired defensive effort, plus the ability to take better care of the basketball in the second half, helped Evanston end a 2-game losing skid with a 56-37 victory over Niles West Friday night in Skokie.
After being torched for a combined 147 points in losses to Glenbrook South and Rolling Meadows, the Wildkits limited the host team to just 9 points in the first half and forced 22 turnovers overall while improving to 15-6 on the season and 3-3 in Central Suburban League South division play.
Josh Thomas stashed in a game-high 14 points and Prince Adams added 12 for the winners. But the headliner who helped end the losing streak was senior point guard Hunter Duncan, who forced his Niles West counterpart — junior Davee Flowers — to commit a staggering 12 turnovers himself.
Duncan’s in-your-grill defense on Flowers was a big reason the Wolves, who have averaged 55 points per game this season and have scored more than 65 points a total of 9 times, never got untracked.
Ellis’ goal every night is for the Kits to limit their opponents to under 40 points and the veteran coach was certainly satisfied with Friday’s effort on defense. Niles West shot just 25 percent (10-of-40) from the floor and missed 14 out of 15 from 3-point range while falling to 13-9 overall, 2-5 in the league.
“I thought Hunter did a great job on Flowers, and he’s their best player,” Ellis pointed out. “He took it upon himself to make it difficult for them to run their offense.
“I really liked our intensity on defense. Our anticipation and effort were much better tonight. We wanted to get up on them in the passing lanes and not give him (Flowers) open teammates to work with. So it wasn’t just Hunter, it was a defense where we were much more coordinated than we have been in awhile.
“It was great to turn it around and get a win tonight, but we still need to see some more consistent play on offense. We had 9 turnovers in the first half and we didn’t want to walk out of here (after the game) with 18 turnovers. So we asked them all how many they’d have in the second half — and the number was 3. That’s exactly what we had in the second half.”
ETHS mustered just 22 points in that first half, not usually the way you build a comfortable lead in an enemy gym. But the Wolves had no teeth in their offense, firing up 3-point attempts from 25 feet away and missing all 10 they attempted while falling behind 22-9.
Thomas netted 10 of his points in the first half and only took two shots after that.
“Josh was our most consistent player tonight,” praised Ellis. “He was the one who made plays for us when we needed to get back on solid footing. He was very active out there.
“We had all those turnovers in the first half because we played too fast with the basketball. Most of our turnovers this season have come trying to do too much, too soon, too fast. We have the mentality at times where they feel they really have to do something (themselves). They just have to play with confidence in their teammates. Share the basketball, and we’ll get a good shot. We’re probably shooting about 60 percent when we move the ball and everyone gets touches.”
Evanston’s efficiency grew in the second half, when the visitors converted 11-of-19 field goal attempts. The Wolves did close within 45-35 midway through the fourth quarter, but Adams responded with a 3-point play and the hosts only scored a pair of free throws down that final stretch.
Duncan contributed 7 points, 3 assists and 3 steals and Brandon Watson came off the bench to supply 8 points and 3 assists for ETHS.