In the midst of a tough schedule of 3 road games in 5 days, Evanston’s defense rested — again and again and again.
The only statistic that really mattered Friday night in Glenview was the staggering 13 layups the Wildkit basketball team surrendered in the first half in a 65-58 loss to Glenbrook South.
With 3 players benched for what head coach Mike Ellis described as “a family matter,” the Kits fell to 14-5 on the season and likely will be reduced to the role of spoiler now in the Central Suburban League South division race at 2- 3.
The Wildkits play at state-ranked Rolling Meadows Saturday at 5:30 pm in a non-conference showdown.
The shocking defensive letdown Friday allowed the host Titans (15-4 overall, 3-2 CSL South) to earn a split in the season series by shooting 56 percent from the field. South took over third place in the league standing behind double figure performances from Gaven Marr (13 points), Josh Wolf (12), Anestis Hadjistamoulou (12) and Rodell Davis Jr. (11).
Evanston’s Josh Thomas scored a season-high 21 points and collected 5 rebounds and Hunter Duncan added 11 points before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, a call that helped the Titans survive a late charge by the visitors.
Thirteen layups allowed in the first half might not be a school record at ETHS, but for a program that has prided itself on tough man-to-man defense since he took over — Ellis’ system doesn’t allow defenders to do much if any switching away from their men anywhere on the floor — that’s too many layups over the course of a full week of games if you ask the veteran head coach.
“Glenbrook South was aggressive to open the game, and our 1-on-1 defense was very porous tonight,” said the Evanston coach. “When we went through the matchups before the game we challenged each one of the kids and asked them if they could stay in front of their man. They all said yes — and it was the exact opposite once we took the floor.
“Our focus was to eliminate layups and 3-point baskets, and that’s all we gave up in the first half. None of it was because of their (offensive) sets. We just couldn’t guard them off the dribble.”
GBS converted those 13 layups, plus 3-point shots by Wolf and Davis Jr., to seize a 38-28 halftime lead. The Titans dropped 16-of-25 shots from the field, or 64 percent, before cooling off in the second half when Ellis finally found a lineup that could put up some resistance.
South pushed the lead to 53-41 after three quarters and then sank 8-of-11 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter to keep control. Evanston closed to within 55-48 and had possession, but Duncan was whistled for an iffy offensive foul in transition — his 5th — and the visitors misfired on 3-point attempts by Colin McDonald and Morgan Brown to help the Titans keep some separation midway through the period.
The kits didn’t quit at that point. They forced 6 turnovers in the fourth quarter but couldn’t close the gap any more than 6 points in the final minute.
“It’s too bad we didn’t come out ready to play,” said Ellis. “GBS was ready right from the jump. Now it’s unlikely that we can win the conference this year. We just put ourselves in a bad position tonight. We didn’t control the controllable, like not guarding your man.”
The 6-foot-6 Thomas, the only veteran big man available for ETHS, sank 7-of-11 field goal attempts and also thrived at the free throw line, where he went 7-for-11. After being used in a strictly off-the-ball role at his prior career cage stop — Stevenson — Thomas put on an offensive display Friday that proved he can be a valuable player for ETHS in the second half, and maybe at the next level, too.
That wouldn’t surprise Ellis.
“We want Josh to score as much as anybody else, not just to be an off-ball screener,” noted the ETHS coach. “It’s just in his personality to wait sometimes instead of creating his own opportunities to score. I’m proud of him for the way he recognized the way we needed him tonight. He took that responsibility head-on.”