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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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Watson’s big night fuels boys basketball past Maine South on road

Evanston’s big second half propels Kits over Hawks, who remain winless in CSL
Will Klearman

As soon as senior Morgan Brown won the tip-off on Friday night, the Maine South crowd’s presence was heard. “Overrated” chants echoed inside the arena while senior Brandon Watson crossed half-court for the Kits’ first possession. 

“[Those chants] were not a distraction. It fuels us more,” Watson stated. 

In front of a rowdy student section in Park Ridge, Evanston played spoiler and defeated the Hawks, 58-45. The Kits advanced to 16-9 overall, and got to .500 in the conference with a 4-4 record. Maine South fell to 9-13 overall and is still looking for their first win in conference play. 

Although the game was close throughout the majority of the contest, the Kits pulled away without much stress when it mattered.

Freshman Vito Rocca found himself a couple of buckets in the first frame off the bench, where he played 26 minutes. Rocca went on to have a big night for the Kits, scoring 11 points on 66 percent shooting to go along with his five boards. Although it’s just his first year on varsity, Evanston’s coaching staff isn’t afraid to send the freshman in the game for long stretches at a time.

“Vito is one of the most trustworthy guys we have on our team,” Evanston head coach Mike Ellis stated. “If you coach him to execute certain things, you feel confident that he’s going to execute as you teach it. It’s not surprising to me that he played very well.”

In the first quarter, the Kits failed to shoot the ball well, putting the ball in the hoop at just a 38% clip compared to Maine South’s 45%. The Kits committed four turnovers in the quarter and trailed the Hawks, 15-12, at the end of the first. The next eight minutes were all Watson. The senior guard scored eight points in the quarter inside the arc on 50% shooting.

“I feel like every night I can exploit the defense. I feel like I’m the fastest guy on the court every time I play,” Watson said. “Today, I actually used those skills to get to the rim and find my teammates, too.”

Despite sparks from the younger Rocca and Watson, the Kits could not find the lead against the CSL-winless Hawks, who tied the game at 22 going into halftime. Both teams struggled to find consistent scoring.

“Coach [Ellis] always says get to the rim. In a game like tonight where they couldn’t really guard us, we needed to get to the rim because threes weren’t always going to fall,” said Watson, who reflected on the game plan for the second half.

The Kits came out of the half fiery. With just under five minutes left in the third quarter, Evanston began to impose their will on the less-athletic Hawks by full-court pressing and remaining aggressive on every defensive possession.

With one minute left in the quarter, the Kits were only up by two points. After a Vito Rocca drive to the basket that ended in a collision at the rim, the freshman fell to the ground grimacing in pain, but shook it off by going one of two at the charity stripe.

From this point on, it was all Evanston. The Kits forced three straight Maine South turnovers that led to six points on the other end of the glass. Evanston went into the final frame up 39-31.

Fueled by another big quarter by Watson who continued to penetrate the lane and more production out of Vito, the Kits were playing with real tempo. A minute into the fourth quarter,  junior Theo Rocca ripped the ball out of Maine South’s Tyler Sierra’s hands. Theo ran the floor and eventually found his younger brother running the floor for the easy layup on the other end. 

Halfway through the final frame, the refs issued a technical foul on Maine South sophomore Panayiotis Sotos who was clearly frustrated with the Kits’ physical defense. The Maine South student section and adults alike were heated and screaming at the officials. Many fouls on both teams were called throughout the rest of the night, but the victory for the Kits was never in jeopardy. 

The Kits finished the night shooting exactly 50 percent compared to Maine South’s 45. Evanston also crushed Maine South in the rebounding battle, 30-15, which Ellis credited as a major factor in the win.

“We doubled them up on the boards tonight,” said Ellis. “That’s a key factor– winning in the paint. I thought that was key. It gave us a lot of opportunities to go out and play transition basketball.”

Watson finished with 18 points on 58% shooting in addition to five rebounds.

“[Brandon] did a great job defensively. We were coming up with stops and scores tonight,” Ellis stated. That allowed us to dig out of a hole we were in but also create a hole for them.”

The Kits also limited the talented Sotos, who scored 22 points off four triples back in December when the two teams met. On Friday night, Sotos had nine points and four turnovers.

Evanston will take on St. Pats in the War on the Shore shootout at New Trier at 1:00 P.M. The Shamrocks took down Loyola on Friday night, who beat the Kits on Tuesday night.

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About the Contributor
Will Klearman, Opinion Columnist
Hey everyone! I’m Will Klearman (he/him) and this year I am an opinion columnist as well as a sports writer. I am a sophomore and this is my second year on staff. Being on The Evanstonian is great because it allows me to get an inside look on the sports at ETHS. I also love getting my opinion out there. Outside of The Evanstonian, I enjoy hanging out with friends, playing tennis and watching sports!
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