Kits punch ticket to elite eight with 56-42 victory over Loyola


Photo courtesy of ETHS Athletics Twitter

ETHS varsity basketball team.

Chris Werner and Eli Cohen

Two years ago, ETHS stars Ryan Bost, Jaheim Holden and Lance Jones were only sophomores, showing flashes of future stardom while playing in the shadow of current Purdue guard Nojel Eastern. Now, as seniors, that trio led the Kits back to Super-Sectionals for the third consecutive year with Friday night’s 56-42 win over Loyola.

The Kits entered Friday night’s game only two games away from returning to the final four, where they earned third place in class 4A last year.

Nearing back-to-back trips to Peoria, the Kits came out firing from the start on Friday, scoring all 21 points in the first quarter from beyond the arc, making seven of their eight attempts.

Holden and sophomore guard Jaylin Gibson opened the game with two threes each. Those two shots accounted for six of Holden’s ten points, but were just the start for Gibson, who made four out of five threes en route a career high 20 point game.

“[Loyola] wanted me to shoot,” Gibson said. “The first time we played them, I really wasn’t shooting the ball so well, but this morning I came in worked on my shooting and made sure I could hit my shots.”

Gibson’s dominance came in Jones’ absence, who spent most of the second quarter on the bench after picking up two early fouls in addition to taking a hard fall after attempting to rebound over a Rambler defender.

Even when Jones returned to the court, his offensive production was less than what Evanston is used to seeing from their leading scorer.

“Jaylin Gibson stepped up, Louis [Lesmond] stepped up. Lance [Jones] and Blake [Peters] didn’t total up a lot of points, but we made up for it with other guys,” coach Mike Ellis explained. “We’re the kind of team that if you try to take one of our guys away, we’ve got four others on the floor next to him that can put it in the basket and make plays.”

Lesmond, who has seen limited minutes since coming back from a high ankle sprain that kept him out for 17 games, was a large factor for ETHS, knocking down three huge three-pointers as Loyola kept a watchful eye on usual sharp-shooter Blake Peters and didn’t allow him to attempt a single field goal.

“Since the beginning of the season, I haven’t hit a lot of threes,” Lesmond said. “So I’ve been working hard. I went to the gym this morning, I was just feeling it.”

While Evanston will look for more production from Jones and Peters on Tuesday, as they will play Stevenson for the Super-Sectional title at the Sears Centre Arena, having Gibson and Lesmond to fall back on will be vital for the Kits.

Stevenson won the Waukegan sectional, improving to 26-5, while Evanston is now 31-4 after Friday night’s win.

Maxpreps has Stevenson ranked 18 in Illinois and Evanston as number three. While Stevenson has a nice record to its name, the Patriots’ strength of schedule is third worst among teams in the top 20.

While the Super-Sectionals have become an annual game for Evanston, it will be the first time in the last four years Stevenson has made it to the elite eight of IHSA Class 4A.

When Stevenson made it, they were carried by point guard Jalen Brunson, who is now a rookie in the NBA.

With Brunson long gone, the Kits now shift their focus to this year’s Stevenson team, as they are the only thing standing in between Evanston and another trip to Peoria.

Tuesday night’s game between the Wildkits and Patriots tips off at 7 p.m. in Hoffman Estates, as both teams will attempt to punch a ticket downstate with a win.