Boys basketball defeats defending state champs at Welsh-Ryan Arena

Owen Chiss, Assistant Sports Editor

The E-Town Showdown has certainly lived up to its name.

In 2019, Evanston defeated current Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Sussex-Hamilton (WI) in triple overtime, 70-68. Last year to the day, the Kits knocked off the top-ranked Trevians of New Trier in a thriller, 62-55. On Saturday night, in the third annual E-Town Showdown at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Kits (20-7, 5-4 CSL) mustered out a 66-64 overtime win against defending IHSA Class 4A state champs Glenbard West (16-9).

Although this year’s Glenbard West looks completely different from last year’s 37-1 team that had four Division 1 commits, the Hilltoppers proved they were still the same gritty team from Glen Ellyn.

The first half was a high-scoring affair between the teams, with the Kits trailing 36-28 at halftime. Early on, Evanston struggled to contain GBW’s center Jack Oberhofer, as well as point guard Benji Zander. Both players combined for 40 of the team’s 64 points on the night, with the majority of those coming in the first sixteen minutes. The Hilltoppers were faced with little defensive resistance and shot 17/21 (80.9%) from the field in the first, which Coach Ellis emphasized needed to change going into the second half.

“We had to defend better. They missed four shots all half and two of them they got the offensive rebound,” said Ellis. “We had to start committing to stops.”

A fast start to the second half brought the Kits right back in the game. Those stops started to come, and within the first five minutes of the third quarter, the Kits ripped off an 11-0 run to go up 39-36. The Kits forced three straight turnovers on three straight possessions for Glenbard West, leading to two triples by senior Jonah Ross and a couple of transition buckets for senior Prince Adams. The Hilltoppers responded with five quick points, but the Kits stayed in it. Adams’ block led to a fast break dunk by senior Josh Thomas and by the end of the third, Evanston managed to cut the deficit to one, trailing just 46-45.

“In the [second half], we had much better awareness to show help on penetration. We didn’t blindly lose backside players,” Ellis stated. “On offense, we knew the lanes we had to take, the angles we had to take, and so we started to recover. The first half we just lost where guys were on the floor.”

The fourth quarter was back and forth between the two teams. With 1:20 left in the quarter, Thomas backed his defender down in the post and scored a layup through contact, drawing the foul and making the free throw to put Evanston up 56-54. After an empty trip for both teams, Glenbard West obtained possession and called a timeout with 24.8 seconds remaining. Out of the huddle, the Hilltoppers’ Luuk Dusek hoisted up a three-pointer and was fouled by Adams, who picked up his fifth of the game and was forced to take a seat for the rest of play. Dusek knocked down the first two but missed the third, tying the game up at 56. On Evanston’s next possession, they turned the ball over just before the clock expired, sending the game to OT.

The four minute overtime period was all Senior Malachi Barrett, who finished the night with fifteen points—seven of those coming in OT. Barrett drained a deep triple to put the Kits up 61-60 with 2:10 remaining and following a steal by senior Hunter Duncan, Barrett weaved his way through traffic, making a layup to put the Kits up 63-62 with one minute left in the period. Two possessions later, Dusek missed a deep three and Barrett was fouled on the rebound sending him to the free throw line. He knocked down both, clinching the win for the Kits.

“[Malachi] really stepped up for us when we needed it. [Glenbard West] wasn’t going to lose track of Jonah, they weren’t going to lose track of Prince in the post or Hunter who’s dynamic with the basketball. Sometimes Malachi gets forgotten and you have to credit him for making them pay for that,” Ellis said.

With the win, the Kits picked up win number 20 on the season, carrying some momentum with them into the final four games of the regular season after a heartbreaking 57-55 loss at home to New Trier on Friday night. Evanston will head to Oak Park River Forest on Tuesday before taking on Niles West at home Thursday, the Kits’ last conference matchup.