This was expected to be a transition year for Evanston, the first post-Nojel Eastern season. But the emergence of Matt Hall, a 6-7 senior, and three freshman guards has raised expectations for the No. 22 Wildkits.
Evanston beat visiting Zion-Benton 62-42 on Tuesday. Hall had seven points and grabbed 13 rebounds and junior guard Jaheim Holden scored 14 points.
“Without question Matt Hall was the difference in the game,” Evanston coach Mike Ellis said. “He was very steady from tip to finish. He stabilized us on the interior with his defensive rebounding and the put backs on the offensive end.”
Holden and fellow juniors Lance Jones (10 points) and Ryan Bost received significant playing time on last season’s senior-led team.
“We play through each other, try to find the open man and get the best shot for the team,” Holden said. “We don’t really have a leader right now, we are trying to find one.”
Evanston (8-2) led by 11 at the half and dominated the third quarter to put the game out of reach of Zion-Benton (4-5).
The three freshmen, Jaylin Gibson, Isaiah Holden (Jaheim’s brother) and Blake Peters, have each shown significant potential so far this season. Peters led the Wildkits in scoring last week against Niles North and made three three-pointers in the third quarter against Zion-Benton.
“He’s the most confident freshman I’ve seen,” Jaheim Holden said. “[Ellis] tells him to shoot the ball and if he doesn’t shoot he’s coming out. He works on his shot too much not to. He’s a big piece for us. His shooting really opens things up for the rest of us.”
Hall didn’t play much last season but has quickly established himself as one of the area’s most dependable rebounders.
“Over the summer he worked hard,” Jaheim Holden said. “I see him in the gym all the time, in the weight room getting stronger. He’s a really big player for us.”
Ten players scored for Evanston. Ellis says he doesn’t have a set rotation yet, he’s still working out what he has with his large stable of guards. But he knows having the freshmen on varsity was the right decision.
“They deserved to be on varsity,” Ellis said. “We’ve seen them handle the intensity and pace in practice. It’s not fair for me to limit their growth and have them down at a sophomore or freshman team when they can compete with the varsity.
“Now minutes are another thing, those are earned. As long as they continue to compete in practice they belong on the same stage with the older guards. It was the same scenario for the juniors when they were freshmen.”
Amar Augillard, a strong 6-4 freshman, led Zion-Benton with 11 points but shot just 4-for-18 from the field. Josh Sobecki added eight points and nine rebounds and senior Cortez Sawyer had six points and seven rebounds.