Senior Damaria Franklin knows what most basketball fans think when they hear “Niles North.”
“They think because we are from Skokie that we don’t have any talent,” Franklin said. “Everyone is doubting us.”
Franklin is right. Even with the lofty preseason ranking and all the hype, the Vikings are going to have to prove it every game this season. Niles North has been a very good program for the past decade. The Vikings recently produced an NBA player, Abdel Nader. But they are still miles behind the Wildkits perception wise.
Friday was a huge step towards changing all that. No. 6 Niles North beat No. 22 Evanston 64-52 in Skokie.
“No doubt it is a big win, it’s a step,” Viking coach Glenn Olson said. “We said before the game this wouldn’t define us but it would sure be nice to have.”
Franklin scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He scored eight points in Niles North’s 10-1 third quarter run that gave the Vikings the lead for good.
“We talk all the time about rollercoasters,” Franklin said. “We knew the game would go up and down. They would go on big runs and we would go on big runs. We just needed to wait and let the game come to us.”
Evanston (6-2, 2-1 CSL South) led 18-5 in the second quarter and 28-26 at half.
“We’ve been a team that started fast all year, so to be down 18-5 was a challenge,” Olson said “Evanston is a dynamic team they are going to go on runs. Our theme was keep playing. I’m proud of the way we settled and I thought we guarded well.”
Sophomore Aquan Smart had 10 points and six rebounds and senior Demarion Bariffe-Smith added nine points and nine rebounds for Niles North (8-0, 3-0).
Both teams played at a frantic pace. The Vikings had 18 turnovers, but just six in the second half. The Wildkits turned the ball over 25 times.
Freshman Blake Peters led Evanston with 16 points and nine rebounds. Junior Lance Jones scored nine and Jaheim Holden added eight points.
“I knew [Peters] could play, we watch film on them all the time,” Franklin said. “He had a couple threes off the backboard.”
Evanston cut the Vikings’ lead to 57-51 on a jumper by Jones with 2:02 to play. Niles North settled down just enough in the final two minutes to secure the win. The Vikings shot 3 for 8 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes.
Niles North is playing without Jamal Stephenson, one of its top players. He’s expected to become eligible during the Wheeling Holiday Tournament at the end of the month. The Vikings have now beaten two of the area’s best teams without him.
“We could probably play with those powerhouse Public League teams,” Franklin said. “I would love to get a chance to play one of them in the playoffs.”