Girls basketball struggles offensively against top ranked Simeon, values experience from their loss

Eli Cohen, Executive Editor

After succumbing to a 13-2 deficit early in the first quarter, Evanston could never close the gap en route to a 17-point loss to the reigning 3A state champions, Simeon.

Despite showing a glimmer of hope when the Kits (7-2) closed the gap to 10 with just over five minutes remaining following two fast-break buckets by junior Lola Lesmond, the Wolverines (1-0), led by DePaul commit Aneesah Morrow, were able to hold on, winning 62-45.

Morrow, a 6’2” forward, put up a staggering 31 points and grabbed nearly 20 rebounds for Simeon, scoring tremendously both on the perimeter and inside. While the Kits couldn’t stop the 2020 3A All-State selectee, ETHS head coach Brittany Johnson, who has known Morrow since she was less than 10 years old, was thrilled that her players had the opportunity to face off against such an elite talent and foresees growth as a result.

“With her speed, athleticism and power, we knew it would be a tall order for us,” Johnson said. “Simeon is a really good team, and I felt their intensity level was different even in warmups. It was important for our girls to see that for themselves. It’s important for them, especially the young players, to see the top talent in the state with their own eyes.”

Johnson has a history of planning grueling schedules, and even said that assistant coach Steve Wool occasionally joked when schedules were released at the beginning of the season and asked, ‘Are you sure about this?’

This year, scheduling was unprecedented and challenging due to the abrupt return of high school basketball. Johnson anticipated only playing conference games, but when given the option to schedule outside of the Central Suburban League, Johnson didn’t hesitate to aim for the top teams in the state, proven by the only three games she scheduled.

  On top of Simeon, the Kits have already played Loyola (No. 5 in 4A) and are scheduled to face Kenwood (No. 2 in 3A) on March 7. With less than four weeks remaining in the season, teams can still schedule games, as CPS was just cleared to play this past week. As a result, Johnson said she’s working with Simeon to try and find another time to play this season, presumably in Wolverine territory.

“My old high school coach always said if you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” Johnson said. “If we could play the top 20 teams in the state, that would be great, especially this year.”

The decision to play the most challenging schedule possible makes tons of sense. Without a state or conference tournament, there is no seeding, which means the teams’ record is an afterthought for Johnson.

“It’s actually kind of cool not to focus on the wins and losses. Our only goal is to improve, and this game can be an important step for us if we utilize it the right way,” Johnson explained.

In addition to having no seeding to worry about, Evanston has a young team whose inexperienced at the varsity level. With only two starters returning in Lesmond and senior Zee Olatunbosun, and two freshmen getting big minutes in Zuri Ransom and Kailey Starks, this year is one that can help prepare Evanston’s new roster for big games in their future.

Yesterday, the Kits’ stars struggled to find the bottom of the basket, as Lesmond and Olatunbosun combined to shoot 10-of -37 from the field and 2-of-18 from three.

Johnson attributes a lot of the offensive struggles to playing at Simeon’s pace and being unable to convert off of turnovers, as the Kits were forced to rely heavily on their halfcourt offense.

“Right now, our halfcourt offense is 1-on-1 basketball, and we don’t want to play that way. We want to move the ball and share the ball,” Johnson explained.

On the bright side, Ransom, a 5’9” guard, took a big step up for the Kits, as she started for Evanston and put up eight points on 3-of-8 shooting. However, her success wasn’t limited to the offensive side of the ball, as she was given the assignment of guarding Morrow in the full-court press at times throughout the game, showing the amount of trust and respect Johnson has for the young guard, who hasn’t even played 10 varsity games yet.

Johnson said that at the beginning of the season, Ransom seemed uncomfortable— not something atypical for a freshman and is even more understandable given the lack of practices prior to the season’s start this year. Now, just nine games later, Johnson says that she can tell Ransom is someone who isn’t afraid of the big moment, and that was evident last night.

Throughout the Kits’ success this year, where they’ve outscored their opponents by 176 points in their seven victories, the full-court press and fast-break buckets looked like a lesson taught right out of complementary basketball 101. Yesterday, however, the Wolverines, who did turn the ball over at an alarming mark, stopped the Kits from converting their steals into easy buckets, making baskets hard to come by at a slower pace, forcing them to play isolation ball, as Johnson stated earlier.

Oftentimes, people say a team would like to forget about a game following a tough loss. That couldn’t be further from the truth in this case. Evanston will reflect on the hard-fought loss; they’ll acknowledge their rebounding was subpar; they’ll work on getting in more of a groove in the half-court; they’ll work on being able to control the pace; they’ll keep working to get Lesmond and Olatunbosun more in sync. To sum it up, for Johnson’s Wildkits, it’s not losing if you’re learning.