With Loyola Academy’s defense collapsing down on James Farr, Evanston coach Mike Ellis allowed his players to “freelance” and play without a lot of the normal sets they run for their 6-foot-8 center.
But Ellis found out Tuesday night that might not be the best style of play for his team as the Wildkits fell 44-39 to the Ramblers at home.
“We didn’t play hard tonight at all,” Ellis said. “Offensively we settled for things, we weren’t very aggressive offensively and we didn’t move the ball as well as we needed to.”
Despite missing forward Michael Lang (concussion), and starting center Jared Prince playing only limited minutes, Loyola hung in against a more athletic Wildkit squad.
Evanston used its athleticism early to get to the hoop, scoring eight points in the paint in the first quarter.
But Loyola found a spark off the bench in Peter Pujals. The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard hit a jumper and drained a three-pointer as part of a 9-2 Rambler run to close the second quarter. Evanston’s lead was cut to one point, 18-17, at halftime.
In the second half, Loyola’s defense focused on Farr, choosing to give the Wildkits looks from outside. But Evanston knocked down only two three-point field goals on the night and struggled with their shots from the perimeter.
“They were doing a good job of collapsing. They were guarding James [Farr] before he was catching it,” Evanston coach Mike Ellis said. “Everything was a full front; they were leaving specific players to double-down inside. Any throw in there would’ve been a turnover.”
That defensive intensity allowed Loyola to go on a 14-0 run between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Within a span of four minutes, Loyola turned a six-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
Eight of those points came in the final minute of the third quarter. Loyola’s David McCoy buried a three-pointer and Pujals followed with a steal and a three-point play. With six second left, Robbie Kus drove the length of the floor and hit a runner at the buzzer to give Loyola a two-point lead going to the fourth quarter.
“Those eight points, that’s an eight-point swing when offensively we’re not attacking with any aggressiveness, we’re just out there going through the motions,” Ellis said. “That was a big difference in the game.”
The Ramblers wouldn’t relinquish the lead despite missing four free throws down the stretch and having a series of possessions that resulted in three consecutive turnovers. Evanston trimmed the lead to three points with a little more than two minutes to go, but couldn’t get any closer.
“We have to do a better job of closing out the game,” Livatino said. “We made that game too close at the end. We have a long way to go to get better, but the composure of our guys was pretty good.”
Garrett Jones led Evanston with 10 points. Pujals finished with 18 points for the Ramblers.
Evanston hosts Maine South at home on Friday.
“When you make plays easy for the other team, then they don’t have to spend a lot of energy coming back and I don’t think Loyola was gassed tonight,” Ellis said. “I thought that was more us making mistakes with Loyola playing well.”