An upset-hungry Loyola team got the ball to start the fourth quarter Tuesday in Wilmette, hoping to cut into a 10-point Evanston lead.
They worked it around the Wildkits’ defense, looking for an open shooter on the perimeter or a missed switch in the midrange or a post move inside. They found none of that, and all the while, the clock ticked off second after second. Two minutes later, Evanston came up with a rebound and found it still had that 10-point lead.
The clock did a lot of ticking and the defenses did a lot of stopping as the No. 6 Wildkits ultimately stifled the Ramblers 46-31 — the fewest points they’ve allowed in a game in more than three years. Loyola managed just 12 points in the second half.
“Sometimes it’s not fun when you have to slow the pace down, but if that’s what we have to do to win, then that’s what we’re going to do,” senior guard Ryan Bost said. “We learn a lot of different offenses and different styles of play in practice; we learn different speeds and tempos also. It makes it easy to adjust when we get into games.”
Jaheim Holden led Evanston (21-4) with 13 points and seven rebounds, Lance Jones added 11 points and Bost tallied eight points and six rebounds. Jordan Kwiecinski, a 6-8 forward, led Loyola (17-7) with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while his brother Bennett had nine points.
More notable, however, was the Wildkits’ complete willingness to play the Ramblers’ slow-paced style and still dominate them at their own game.
Holden said the team set a goal before the game to hold the hosts to fewer than 40 points. By guarding Loyola closely and putting pressure on the ball, they kept a packed crowd — nearly evenly split in allegiances — tame and easily achieved that 40-point target.
“We communicated on defense, we pressured the ball more than usual,” Holden said. “They don’t have really talented guards, so it was to our advantage.”
The Ramblers led 10-5 early and then hit three consecutive three-pointers to retake the lead late in the second quarter, but Evanston scored two highlight-reel baskets to carry a 22-19 edge into halftime.
The second half was far less competitive. By the time Jones slammed down a runaway dunk to put a bow on top of the Wildkits’ impending victory with 2:45 left, Loyola looked completely lost offensively.
“We were very united that second half,” Evanston coach Mike Ellis said. “The first half, we had three or four guys on the same page. The second half, all five guys were.”
Since losing a 70-66 thriller to Bolingbrook on Jan. 19, Evanston has won three straight while allowing just 45 points per game.
Tuesday, they held the Ramblers to a brutal 12-of-46 shooting line, and sent them to the free throw line only three times.
“We’re who we are, and we have to be able to play against teams that have size, and we don’t have that,” Ellis said. “Our guys are learning how to adapt to whatever the strengths are of our opponent, how to limit that from being as effective as it can be. They’re getting smarter.”