Holden, defense leads Kits to Regional crown

 

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Photo courtesy of Ann Tarpey

While Jaheim Holden had a nice regular season, averaging about 14 points per game, he played like a true star in the Glenbrook South Regional Tournament.

In the first game, a 51-38 triumph over host GBS, Holden tallied 20 points and converted all 7 of his free throw attempts.

The contest was too close for comfort for the first three quarters, Evanston only leading by 4 points at halftime and 10 at the end of the third. But Holden’s 6 points in the final period, a spectacular tip dunk by Lance Jones and a timely three-pointer from Blake Peters helped Evanston extend their lead as the clock hit zero.

The Kits also forced an astounding 24 turnovers but struggled to capitalize as their offense looked sluggish for most of the game.

GBS held the Kits to a measly 9 points after the first quarter and 19 at the half. ETHS’ total output of 51 points was 11 under their season average of 62. Nevertheless, Evanston survived and advanced.

In game two of the Regional Tournament, the Regional championship, the Kits looked better on offense and put up roughly the same numbers on defense, forcing 18 steals and 23 turnovers in all.

Holden erupted once more. This time for a career-high 29 points. He sank 12 of 18 shots from the field and also pitched in on defense, accounting for 4 steals.

“I just have to lead in any way possible to help the team,” Holden told a reporter from Evanston Now. “I have a chip on my shoulder from last year (super-sectional loss). So winning today was an accomplishment. But we’re far from finished. The goal we have is to get Downstate.”

The game was also very personal for one Notre Dame player. Anthony Sayles, who lives in Evanston, had talked some trash about the ETHS freshman trio, was held to 7 points and committed 7 turnovers after scoring 30 points in ND’s Regional Semifinal win over Maine West.  

The tandem of bigs for the Kits, Matt Hall and Jaylin Gibson were faced with stopping ND’s monster inside, 6’9” Dusan Mahorcic. The two did just enough, making him work for every basket, to keep him from single-handedly eliminating Evanston. Mahorcic scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.

“I thought Matt and Jaylin both stepped up and did a tremendous job in the second half against Mahorcic,” coach Mike Ellis told Evanston Now. “Because of them, Notre Dame didn’t have the safety net of just being able to throw it into him, and their guards had to create more out in front.”

Evanston’s two other junior guards, Jones and Ryan Bost also had productive games on both sides of the ball. Jones tallied 10 points and 4 steals and Bost added 20 points and 3 steals. Lance and Ryan took turns guarding Sayles who never found his rhythm offensively.  

The Kits were only up by 2 at the half, 28-26, and that only because of a 30-foot buzzer-beater three from Holden. But with quarter scores of 19-11 and 19-14, ETHS pulled away in the second half.

In the last minute of play, both coaches put their subs in, Mahorcic’s only rest of the game, and even recent call-up Jerome “Jigga” Smith saw playing time. The sophomore guard is listed at 5’5” but that is very generous. He is a whopping 110 pounds.

Evanston will play in the Sectional semifinal at Maine East on Tuesday at 7pm. against Loyola who discarded Maine South in the Regional championship at Maine South 48-29.

In the other two Regional championships in the Maine East Sectional Niles North survived St. Viator 68- 60 and New Trier got past Prospect 53-35. The two winners will meet on Wednesday at 7pm.

 

2017-18 NFL playoff predictions: Superbowl 52

Matchup: New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles 5:30 pm. NBC.

Prediction: New England Patriots 23 Philadelphia Eagles 20

The Eagles will start fast, going up double digits in the first half. But Nick Foles will come back down to earth. The Eagles’ defense will hold the Patriots in check until the final minutes of the game. But when the game is on the line, Tom Brady will hook up with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola on the game-winning drive. Stephen Gostkowski will hit the game-winning field goal as time runs off the clock, to give Tom Brady his sixth Superbowl title.

Juniors lead Kits over Vikings 76-72

 

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Photo courtesy of Ann Tarpey

Evanston’s trio of junior guards Jaheim Holden, Lance Jones and Ryan Bost were held to just 23 points combined when the Kits and Vikings met in Skokie in mid-December. It was a different story Friday night in Beardsley Gym.

In front of a sellout crowd of over 2500 people, the three guards combined for 65 of ETHS’ 76 points. Bost scored a season-high 19 points while playing tenacious defense on Dravon Clayborn for the better part of the contest.

Jones, who only scored nine points in the first meeting, went for 22 on the night and 12 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Jones had to fight through both cramps and a rolled ankle late in the game.

Holden tallied 24, his highest output since the last game of the Thanksgiving tournament way back in November. Holden connected on 13 straight free throws down the stretch, going 16-18 from the line overall.

“Making free throws is part of your mental toughness,” Holden said while speaking with a reporter from Evanston Now after the win. “We’re tougher now than we were the last time we played them.”

Evanston had the lead for the majority of the contest and the margin was nine heading into the fourth quarter. But Niles North battled back as Demaria Franklin scored 18 points in the final quarter alone. Franklin hit a wide-open three-pointer to finally tie the game at 66 apiece with five seconds left in regulation. Franklin ended up with a game-high, 32 points.

Evanston had 4.7 seconds to get off a potential game-winning shot and recreate the ending that took place just one week ago. This time the ball went to Bost. He dribbled up the court and he got a shot up from just outside the three-point line. The ball was on line but a little too long. It hit the backboard and ricocheted off the rim. Overtime.

In the extra period, the Vikings won the tip and Franklin came down and dunked the ball with one hand, igniting mayhem in the Niles North student section.

The Vikings had all the momentum at that point, but the Kits battled back. Using acrobatic layups from Jones and clutch free throws from both Jones and Holden, ETHS escaped with a 76-72 win. Niles North’s slopping hand-checking defense didn’t help the Vikings either.

With the victory, Evanston improved to 17-4, 7-1 in league play. They also knocked Niles North out of the conference race as the Vikings dropped to 20-3, 5-3 in the CSL South.

Although Niles North has less overall losses the both Evanston and New Trier, the two teams left in contention, all of the Vikings’ defeats have come to conference teams, which makes it nearly impossible for them to win the league anymore.

Even though this ending wasn’t quite as exciting as the last one on the Beardsley floor, this very well could be the biggest win of the year.

 

 

 

Kits stun Hawks, remain atop CSL South

 

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Tanaka/Pioneer Press

On Friday night in a packed Beardsley Gym,  Maine South seemed to have secured a two-point win. But ETHS freshman Blake Peters had another ending in mind.

In the pregame shootaround, both Maine South and Evanston honored the memory of Thomas Gardiner, the father of Hawks’ senior big man Tommy Gardiner and the uncle of Junior forward John Gardiner.

Each team took the floor with shirts that honored Thomas, who had been in a fatal car accident on Jan. 15.

Maine South’s shooting shirts were black and featured the words “Bigger Than Basketball” in white letters on the front. On the back was a red number 22, Tommy’s number, and the word “Family” where a player’s last name usually appears on a jersey, again in white lettering.

Evanston’s warmup shirt was green, because of the Gardiner family’s proud Irish heritage and read “Hawks Fly Together” in white type on the front. The shirts also had the initials “TG” written on the sleeve.

In a game that was featured as WCIU’s “Game of the Week,” 13 ranked Evanston and 24 ranked Maine South, according to Mike O’Brien’s latest  Chicago-area Super 25 basketball rankings, did not disappoint. The game was close throughout, with neither team leading by more than six at any point. As time ran off the clock in the final quarter, the Hawks grabbed a 43-42 lead with 11 seconds remaining.

After a miss at the free throw line by Maine South, the Kits got the rebound and the ball found its way into  Peters’ hands. He took a few dribbles to corral it and get across the half-court line on the right side of the floor. He then picked up his dribble and looked to pass. Two Hawks came in to double-team the freshman and he tried to make a desperate pass.

The ball was intercepted by the Hawks’ Michael George and he tried to evade Evanston defenders to end the game. But ETHS fouled him with 2.6 seconds on the clock.  

George stepped calmly to the line and nailed the first free throw. 44-42.

After a Maine South timeout, George stood at the line one more time. When he let the ball go, it looked as if it would find the bottom of the net and make the margin three. But the ball rimmed out.

Peters grabbed the rebound and dribbled once to gain momentum. Then, with just about 1 second left, he heaved the ball nearly 80 feet, letting go at the Hawks free-throw line. The ball almost touched the ceiling of the Gym as the buzzer sounded. The shot, which had been a little off to the left when Peters let it go, miraculously began slicing back to the right. The ball reached the basket and fell through the left side of the net. 45-44.

The play almost instantly became an internet sensation. Various videos of the play made appearances on popular social media accounts including @Houseofhighlights, @Greatesthighlights, @Sportsillustrated and @Sportscenter. And with the help of ESPN employee and ETHS alum Cassidy Hubbarth, the shot also reached number one on Sportscenter’s top 10 plays.

@ETHSports’s original video of the shot now has over 1 million views on Twitter

With the dramatic win, Evanston improved to 15-4 and 6-1 in the CSL South, to remain in first place in the conference.

Meanwhile, Maine South dropped to 14-6 and 3-3 in league play.

 

2017-18 NFL playoff predictions: conference championships

 

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Sun. 2:05 pm CBS

New England Patriots 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 24

Blake Bortles looked like an average NFL quarterback on Sunday against the Steelers, and that’s all the Jaguars need him to be. With a great defense and Leonard Fournette in the backfield, they have enough to win. Against most teams. Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game and he will find a way to get to his third Superbowl in six years and his second in a row.  Gronk will be Brady’s guy. Nobody in Jacksonville’s defensive backfield is tall enough to cover him, and none of their linebackers are fast enough to cover him. The Jaguars will come out fast with Fournette running wild on New England’s defense, but Brady will find a way to win.

Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Sun. 5:40 pm FOX

Minnesota Vikings 17 Philadelphia Eagles 10

This will be a low-scoring battle of the defenses. I know that Minnesota’s offense has performed well this season. But only scoring essentially 23 points, besides the last play, in front of a home crowd, against a  Saints team that is not known for their defense, is not typical of a great offense.  Philadelphia’s offense will struggle to score even more. They only scored 15 points against the Falcons, and the Vikings defense is a lot better than Atlanta’s. In the end, the defenses will both perform well and it will essentially come down to quarterback play. With a trip to Superbowl 52 on the line, Case Keenum will get the better of Nick Foles.

ETHS sweeps doubleheader at New Trier

On a cold, blustery night, it seemed that there were more people in historic Gates Gym to watch the Wildkits take on the Trevians than anywhere else.

In the first game of the girls-boys doubleheader, it was deja vu from the first meeting in Evanston. The Wildkits used their athletic ability to create a little separation early on, leading 13-6 after the first quarter and 25-18 at the half.

Then, like in the first meeting, the Trevians went on a run of their own to begin the second half, outscoring Evanston 17-11 in the third quarter. New Trier was only down by a single point heading into the final quarter and was riding momentum too. But that’s when sophomore point guard Kayla Henning decided to show everyone in the gym why she is a Division I prospect. She took the ball to the basket almost at will in the final period scoring eight of her 14 points when it mattered the most.

New Trier couldn’t figure out how to stop Henning, and her offensive success led to team success on defense. Evanston came away with a 52-45 victory, ending the game on a 16-6 run. Evanston improved to 13-7, (4-2) and New Trier fell to 14-5 (4-2).

Star Performers:

Evanston: Kayla Henning 14 pts6 reb. Ambrea Gentle 13 pts. 13 reb.

New Trier: Cate Murdock 14 pts.

The boys game, between two top 25 teams in Illinois lived up to the hype and then some. The Trevians started fast behind twin towers 6’9″ Ciaran Brayboy and 6’8″ Spencer Boehm, the Kits only having one player over 6’6″. New Trier got anything it wanted inside early on and was up 14-7 after one.

The same narrative continued in the second quarter with Brayboy scoring 11 of his 16 points in the first half. Evanston was down 31-22 at halftime only because of a half court buzzer-beater by Lance Jones.

In the second half, with 6’7″ Matt Hall in foul trouble, the Kits had to find some way to stop the big men inside. They turned to senior Reggie Henley. And he did his job. Henley, who is easily half a foot shorter than Brayboy, shut him down as Brayboy only added five points in the whole second half. As for Boehm, Jones continued to frustrate him with pesky defense. Boehm finished with 11 points.

Henley’s defense led to turnovers which led to easy baskets and the Kits crawled back into the game. Evanston used a big three-pointer late in the third by fan-favorite Harry Porter to grab their first lead of the contest 45-42 heading into the fourth.

If somebody said the fourth quarter was a defensive struggle that would be a huge understatement. The two teams combined for only nine points in the entire quarter, six for New Trier and three for Evanston. The Kits clamped down defensively and forced either a turnover or a very difficult shot each time New Trier had possession. Offensively, Evanston implemented a four-corners strategy to take time off the clock. But the decision was controversial since it allowed time to come off the clock but always ended in a turnover low percentage shot, that was missed.

Brayboy sank a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining to tie it up at 45. Evanston ran a quality play on offense, resulting in an open look for freshman sharp-shooter Blake Peters.

His shot was right on target but was way too long and the ball hit nothing until New Trier rebounded it. Peters finished with four points and went without hitting a three.

When the Trevians pulled down the board, there was still about four seconds remaining and Griffin Ryan was wide open for an outlet pass. The ball found Ryan’s hands and there were no defenders in his path. But, streaking down the court was Lance Jones. Jones flew to the other end and blocked Ryan’s game-winning layup from behind. The play quickly drew comparisons to LeBron James’ chase-down block of the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala in game seven of the 2016 NBA finals.

As the buzzer sounded, it was deadlocked 45-45.

Neither team could score very much in the overtime either. But the Kits found themselves clinging to a 50-49 lead with 3.5 seconds remaining. New Trier had the ball and had to inbound the ball on the right sideline about 20 feet from their basket.

Instead of going inside to either Boehm or Brayboy, the Trevians elected to inbound it to point guard Andrew Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick did fight up a shot, but it was a contested fall-away three, and it came up well short. 50-49 Kits win.

New Trier fell to 10-3 (4-1) and Evanston improved to 13-3 (4-1). The two teams find themselves currently in a three-way tie for first place in the CSL South with the Niles North Vikings.

Star Performers:

Evanston: Lance Jones 15 pts. 8 reb. 6 stl. Jaheim Holden 10 pts.

New Trier: Ciaran Brayboy 16 pts. Spencer Boehm 11 pts. Andrew Kirkpatrick 11 pts.

Bears new coaching staff nearing completion

With new head coach Matt Nagy being hired on Jan. 8, the Bears were only the second team to hire a new head coach. But really the first because we all knew Jon Gruden was going to Oakland. Nagy hasn’t wasted any time filling his coaching staff either, hiring almost all of his offensive staff already. As for the defensive staff, since defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was re-signed on Jan. 12, everything will pretty much stay the same.

The first hire Nagy made was to bring in offensive line coach Harry Hiestand just two days after being hired. Hiestand served that same position in Chicago from 2005 to 2009. The Bears went to a Superbowl during that time, in the 2006 season. He then went to South Bend, where he coached the O-line from 2012 to 2017, producing numerous draft picks in his time for the Fighting Irish. An offensive tackle, Ronnie Stanley was drafted number six in 2016 by the Baltimore Ravens.

Nagy then made four additions to his staff two days later on Jan. 12. He hired running backs coach Charles London, wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, and most importantly, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

London, previously the Bears offensive quality coordinator from 2007 to 2009 and running backs coach for the Texans from 2014-2017, worked with the likes of Arian Foster and Alfred Blue during his time in Houston.

Furrey, who was a receiver for eight seasons in the NFL, was most recently the head coach at Division II school, Limestone College in South Carolina.

Chris Tabor who most recently was the Browns special teams coordinator from 2011 to 2016, was also with the Bears as their special teams coach from 2008 to 2010, back when Devin Hester was in Chicago.

Helfrich, who is getting his first crack at the NFL was the head coach for the Oregon Ducks from 2013 to 2016. He is credited with developing now Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, in his college days. Helfrich also lead the Ducks to a national championship game in 2014, where they were defeated by the Ohio State Buckeyes 42-20.

Then a day later, Nagy made his most recent hire, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride. Gilbride has been the tight ends coach for the Giants for the last four seasons. We’ll see if Gilbride is the right guy to help develop the Bears’ promising rookie Adam Shaheen.

Nagy has moved quickly in filling out his coaching staff. He has hired a total of six coaches in a span of only four days. Let’s hope he can bring wins as fast as he can hire coaches.