The road woes continued for the Evanston High School boys’ basketball team over the weekend with an 0-3 showing at the talent-laden Taco John’s Invitational in Cheyenne.
The Red Devils (0-10) knew going in they were in for a tough tournament, with games scheduled against three of the top five Class 4A teams in the state. Evanston opened the tournament Thursday with an 81-52 loss to No. 5 Cheyenne East; that was followed Friday by a 63-35 loss to No. 1 Cheyenne Central. Evanston closed out the tournament Saturday with a 67-48 loss to No. 2 Sheridan.
At 0-10, the Red Devils are off to a less-than-favorable start, though EHS head coach Lex Cornia said there were some positives to be gleaned from the Cheyenne trip.
“I do think that we fought in every game,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the time that we fought, the game had already been decided. But we did fight. I think we gave Central the toughest half they’ve had all season, I really liked our game against them. East is just very, very talented. I wish we could have had a different result, but I think there were moments in each game where the guys gained some confidence. Our runs are getting longer, we just need to look good for the whole 32 minutes.”
East 81, Red Devils 52
Against the No. 5 team in 4A in one of the more hostile environments in the state to play in, Evanston had three players finish in double digits in scoring, led by a double-double from Mason Ellingford, who finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Dawson Crofts also finished with 12 points, while David Baxter netted 11 points behind three 3-pointers, to go along with three assists.
“I thought Mason and Dawson played very well in that game,” Cornia said. “I thought Burke Thomas [eight points] did some better things, his responsibility with the ball was better. I thought Casey Perriman came in off the bench and did some good things, as well.”
After keeping the game close in the first quarter, the Red Devils were outscored by 16 points in the second and trailed 44-21 at the half.
Evanston came out fired up in the second half, but couldn’t overcome the second-quarter deficit, falling 81-52.
“The second half of the East game, I thought we really came out and responded,” Cornia said. “We had dug ourselves a hole, but we won the third quarter. I thought the second half, we really went point-for-point with them.”
Cornia said when the rankings shake out again this week, East may be due for a bump up, especially following a dominating 68-51 win over No. 2 Sheridan Friday.
“I actually think East is the best team in the state, and we’ve seen all of them,” Cornia said. “And it was a hostile gym, the Thunderdome on a Thursday night, but I think our kids went out and battled. There were some stretches where they took more than they gave.”
Central 63, Red Devils 35
Though the Red Devils only put up 35 points Friday against No. 1 Central, Cornia said the team played its best basketball of the weekend against the Indians.
“That first half against Central was the best half we’ve had against a quality opponent,” Cornia said. “If we could have stretched that into 30 minutes instead of 16, I actually think that’s a team we can run against.”
Evanston led 12-8 after the first quarter, and trailed by just four points at the half 22-18.
“We had them down 12-5 in the first quarter, and I thought we really executed our gameplan in the first half,” Cornia said. “We did a good job of containing their two top guys in [Lawson] Lovering and [Nathanial] Talich, and we basically said someone else is going to have to beat us. And in the second half, Central did find that other guy.”
The Indians exploded for a 23-9 run to start the second half, and followed that with an 18-8 fourth quarter en route to a 63-35 win.
“I was really happy with our effort against Central,” Cornia said. “We just had that stretch in the third quarter where it got away from us again. But first half, guys were fighting, guys were working. But on Central’s home floor on a Friday night, those guys have a lot of weapons.”
Mason Ellingford again led the charge for the Red Devils, netting 10 points and pulling down five boards. Burke Thomas hit a pair of 3-pointers en route to eight points, Dawson Crofts added six and Jagger Mitchell finished with five.
“Mason did a tremendous job that game, handling a kid [Lovering] that’s listed at 7’1” and has already signed to play at CU-Boulder,” Cornia said. “I thought Casey Perriman came in and did some really good things defensively for us, he was focused on the Talich kid the whole game. Casey really did some things well.”
Sheridan 67, Red Devils 48
The Red Devils closed out the tournament Saturday against No. 2 Sheridan, who went on a 17-1 run to open the first quarter.
“It was similar problems — shots weren’t going down for us, we had turnover issues — they [Sheridan] just really jumped out on us.”
But Evanston battled back, coming within nine points of the lead in the fourth quarter before the Broncs closed the door with a 67-48 win.
“We called that game a character game,” Cornia said. “We told the guys ‘This is going to reveal your character — you’re in day three of a tournament where you’ve seen three of the best teams in the state.’ I wish we would have started better, but once we got through that first bad run, I thought we did some pretty good things.”
Dawson Crofts paced the Red Devils with 19 points, followed by Mason Ellingford with 13 points to go along with a team-high seven boards.
David Baxter netted eight points, followed by Burke Thomas with six points behind a pair of 3-pointers.
Evanston will finally have its first home game of the 2019-20 season Friday against Mountain View; they’ll travel to Lyman Saturday to take on the Eagles.
“We know that both of these programs are better than they have been in the past,” Cornia said of the Bridger Valley teams. “These kids [Evanston] have grown up playing against these guys, and they respect their opponents. But I think we’re excited to get on our home court and show some of the lessons they’ve learned during this brutal stretch of games they’ve had to play. And just getting in front of our home crowd, I know it’s something these guys have looked forward to. There’s no more special place in the state to play basketball than Evanston Gym.”
As for the team’s 0-10 start, Cornia said the lessons learned will prove to be invaluable with conference play looming.
“We’ve shown we can play with the best teams in the state in increments,” Cornia said. “If we can just get that 32 minutes built up by the time we see these teams again — I believe that each team we played this weekend knows that Evanston can be dangerous.”