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The Evanstonian

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

The Evanstonian

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

The Evanstonian

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Watson’s last-second steal seals win over St. Patrick

In 14th-annual War on the Shore, Evanston lean on defense in non-conference victory.

Whether it was from exhaustion due to playing a full 32 minutes or late-game nerves, junior Theo Rocca’s two missed free throws with eight seconds left against St. Patrick was a shock to every fan at New Trier on Saturday afternoon.

Thankfully, the junior guard didn’t have to dwell on his misses for very long.

With the Kits up 47-45, St. Patrick attempted to push the ball down the court off Rocca’s second miss, but senior Brandon Watson pick-pocketed EJ Breland and heaved the ball back to Rocca, who sealed the Shamrocks’ fate with a buzzer-beating layup to give Evanston a 49-45 victory. The win pushed Evanston to 17-9 overall, while subsequently dropping St. Patrick to 15-7.

Saturday’s game at New Trier was part of the War on the Shore Shootout, an annual tournament in its 14th year that raises money for the Danny Did Organization, which funds epilepsy research. 

Evanston’s rock-solid second-half defense, combined with Morgan Brown’s electric third-quarter performance and the team’s outstanding rebounding propelled the Kits to a signature win against a team that beat Loyola Academy just a day before– who the Kits lost to on Tuesday night, 47-44.

“I thought our guys did a great job leaning on the defense today to be able to close it out,” Evanston head coach Mike Ellis said. “And then sure enough, [Brandon] stepped in front of the pass, intercepted it, and we got the closing layup.”

“You gotta credit Theo for being that type of competitor,” Ellis stated. “He didn’t hang his head. He said ‘Let me find another way.’ That’s what we did all night. When there wasn’t one avenue to make a play, we found another one.”

The first quarter was sluggish for Evanston, who committed seven turnovers in the first quarter alone. Brown scored a quick layup on the first possession to open the game but Evanston found themselves struggling to defend Breland and guard AJ Thomas, who combined for 33 of the Shamrocks’ 45 points on the day. The Kits took some momentum into the second quarter of senior Antoine Thomas’ offensive rebound and putback layup in the closing seconds of the first eight minutes but still trailed, 11-8.

However, Breland and Thomas continued to mercilessly drive to the hoop and found a way to score despite solid man-to-man defense by Evanston. Reverse layups on contested drives seemed to be occurring every possession for the Shamrocks. Rocca hit two threes in the quarter to cut the lead down a bit, but the Kits trailed 29-21 going into the break. 

“AJ kept getting into the paint and that put a lot of pressure on [our] defense. They just got downhill on us every possession,” Ellis stated.

Evanston jumped right out of halftime with new energy and a vengeance. On the Kits’ first two offensive possessions, Brown knocked down catch-and-shoot threes to bring the Kits to within two. And just a couple of plays later, Brown got fouled while shooting and drained both of his free throws to tie the game up. The senior forward’s presence was also felt on the glass, where he corralled eight rebounds alongside Rocca’s ten. The Kits closed in on St. Patrick’s lead, trailing 42-39 heading into the final eight minutes of play.

The Kits opened by the fourth quarter by locking down the Shamrock guards. Every time Thomas and Breland attacked the basket, multiple Evanston defenders were there to collapse on the ball to stop easy scores. And on the offensive end, the Kits made their shots. Watson drained a three to put the Kits up 43-42, which was Evanston’s first lead since 2-0. With that lead in their pockets, the Kits on the floor completely shut down the Shamrock offense, allowing St. Patrick to only score three points the entire quarter. This change defensively led to good results on the offensive end.

Down 45-44 with under two minutes remaining, senior Jonny Dickson had a defender in his face in the right corner but nailed a contested three to put the Kits up two. Both teams stalled out for the final 90 seconds until Rocca’s final layup.

“We had to start getting our offense going through our defense,” Rocca stated. “We were down and we had to get stops. That was the biggest part of our comeback.”

Evanston will take on De La Salle in Beardsley on Monday, Jan. 29, at 6:30 p.m. for senior night.

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About the Contributors
Owen Chiss, Digital Sports Editor
Fiona Vosper, Staff Writer
Hi! My name is Fiona Vosper (she/her). I am a sophomore and I mainly write for the sports and opinion sections. I have been writing for The Evanstonian since my freshman year and love contributing to this amazing community of writers. The Evanstonian has strengthened my passion for writing and has also opened my eyes to many different perspectives within Evanston and beyond. Outside of The Evanstonian, I am also a varsity cross-country runner and soccer player. Additionally, I am a facilitator for the EMERGE Initiative club. In my free time, I love to explore bookstores and go on long runs by the beach.
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