Just the beginning

Basketball’s third place finish exceeds expectations, sets precedent for future


Jonah Charlton

Junior Jaheim Holden takes a jump shot over a defender.

Chris Werner, Sports Editor

The Kits lost a close one to Whitney Young for a chance to reach the state championship, but the team came back and won convincingly over the Larkin Royals to come in third place in Illinois.

Matt Hall and freshman Blake Peters combined for 33 points in the semifinal game, but it wasn’t enough to get revenge on the Dolphins of Whitney Young, who knocked them out of the playoffs in the super-sectional round last year at Chicago State.

Peters finished with a career-high 23 points and shot 5-7 from three point range.

“I had put up shots that morning and I felt good throughout the day,” Peters said. “When we started playing I just blocked out all the noise. My defense was pretty good to start the game and that paved the way for my offense to get going.”

In his second-to-last high school game, Hall played his heart out, tallying 10 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes of action. But, the Evanston big man only scored 2 points after halftime as the Dolphins made some key halftime changes.

“We had to make an adjustment in the second half to pay more attention to him and find him every time they had the ball.” Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said.

In their first State game in 10 years, Evanston led by 3 at the end of the first quarter and 7 at halftime, but Whitney Young responded, outscoring the Kits 42-29 in the second half.

Evanston’s defensive intensity early in the game held Whitney Young to only 20 points and 9 field goals in the first half.

It seemed like the Kits might be able to pull out a win thanks to their defense, like they had most of the year. But Whitney Young came out firing in the second half.

“I thought Whitney Young came out and stepped up to a level that we were not at,” coach Mike Ellis said. “That was the difference in the game, those first four minutes in the second half where they set a tone of a more intense brand of basketball.”

Juniors Ryan Bost, Jaheim Holden and Lance Jones never found any rhythm offensively the three only scoring 3, 8 and 10 points on the night. Overall the Kits shot an abysmal 35.8 percent from the field.

As the misses began to add up for the Kits, their defensive hustle began to diminish, allowing layups and free throws to Whitney Young.

The Dolphins shot 12-13 from the free-throw line on the night and 10-11 in the second half, while ETHS shot only 11-19.

Whitney Young star senior guard Javon Freeman scored 25 points and in the second half, all but 2 of his 13 points came from layups or free throws.

Freshman Blake Peters drives to the hoop.

Jones had the tall task of trying to defend Freeman, a Valparaiso commit.

“It was pretty tough,” Jones said. “Javon is a very good player. I knew what he was capable of but it was hard to keep him from where he wanted to go.”

The Dolphins ended the game on a 16-7 run, and pulled away after the game was tied at 49 with four minutes to play.

Although Evanston was not going to play for a state title, they still had another game left. And Hall would follow up his stellar semi- final game with another amazing performance.

In the third place game, the Kits started out a little sluggish. But they found their stride in the second quarter, and went into halftime leading 24-18.

“It was really hard to lose that semifinal game and then have to play again in a game that doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning,” Peters said. “But it was Matt’s last game and all the seniors, we felt like we owed them and coach Ellis a win and we pulled it out.”

In his final game, Hall got his second straight double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, all while matching up against 6’10” Larkin center Jalen Shaw.

Lance Jones dribbles past defenders at the state championship.

“I was boxing out very well,” Hall said. “So I just had to go up there and grab the rebounds.”

Matt only allowed Shaw to get 7 rebounds. Many of Hall’s points came on put-back layups from the offensive rebounds he pulled down.

“Matt was definitely our most outstanding player for the weekend,” Ellis said. “He really impacted our outcome of the tournament, to come away with a third place trophy.”

By the end of the third quarter, the Evanston lead ballooned to 16. And with a ten point lead with thirty seconds left, coach Ellis emptied the bench. Fan-favorite Jerome Smith scored the last basket.

While Evanston had higher aspirations than a third place finish, it was anything but the “rebuilding year” many analysts believed it would be.

The Kits actually placed higher in the state of Illinois than they were predicted to finish in the Central Suburban League.

Nobody thought that ETHS, a team that lost four starters from last year’s team, would make it anywhere close to last year, let alone further. This was not the Kits most talented team in the last decade, but they found a way to get to Peoria.

“We heard the noise from everybody,” Peters said. “People projected us to be fourth in the conference, but we knew we were a better team than that. When it mattered most, we played our hardest and that’s what separated us from every other team in the state.”

Ellis rotated in seven players in the state semifinal game; only one of those players is leaving. The Kits are already waiting for next season to start, and make their way back to Peoria.

“I’m really excited,” Holden said. “We still have a chip on our shoulder since we only finished third at State. We had bigger goals and we have unfinished business.”