With an 0-4 showing at the Flaming Gorge Classic over the weekend, the Evanston High School boys’ basketball team has struggled to find its footing this season, with the team’s first win of 2019-20 proving to be elusive.
The Red Devils opened the tournament Thursday with a 74-64 loss to Class 4A Laramie; that was followed by a pair of last-second losses to a pair of solid Class 3A opponents in Rawlins (63-61) Friday and Worland (69-68) Saturday morning.
Saturday afternoon’s contest against West Side, a 2A school from Idaho, seemed to encapsulate the Red Devils’ season so far: After trailing by just four points at the half, Evanston seemed to fall apart at the seams in the final two frames, as the Pirates rolled to a 74-47 win. Evanston is now 0-7 on the season.
“It was not the weekend we hoped for or needed, obviously,” said EHS head coach Lex Cornia. “I know we’re not a big 4A school, but at the same time, that was not the level of basketball expected in Evanston.”
Laramie 74, Red Devils 64
The first quarter of Thursday’s contest between the Red Devils and the fifth-ranked team in Class 4A was a back-and-forth affair, with Laramie holding a slight edge at the end of the quarter 20-18.
The second quarter was all Plainsmen, however, with Laramie outscoring Evanston 19-8 to take a 39-26 lead into the break. That lead proved to be insurmountable, as Laramie held off a late charge by the Red Devils to win 74-64.
“I feel like we competed against a good team,” Cornia said. “But we had bad runs, and we just ... [gave] teams too many easy opportunities, especially through turnovers.”
In what would become a recurring theme for the tournament, Evanston turned the ball over a whopping 29 times, leading to 18 points in transition for the Plainsmen.
“We make the game easy for the other team to play,” Cornia said. “Offensively we played pretty well, except for the turnovers. Obviously we can put the ball in the hole — imagine what it would look like if we didn’t give them so many points.”
Red Devil senior Dawson Crofts led all scorers with 23 points, including three 3-pointers. David Baxter followed with 15 points, hitting four shots from behind the arc, while Mason Ellingford and Braxton Lind netted nine apiece.
Ellingford pulled down six boards to lead the team, followed by five from Wade Bowen and four from Lind. Turnovers proved to be key, with the Red Devils turning the ball over 29 times, to Laramie’s 11.
“I think as a team, we’re out of character right now,” Cornia said. “It’s my job to get us back into character. We need to get back to that mentality of being a team that can finish close games.”
Rawlins 63, Red Devils 61
After a tough loss against Laramie Thursday, Evanston was looking to rebound Friday against a determined Rawlins squad. The game was close throughout, with neither team able to get more than three-to-four point advantage; the Red Devils held a 34-33 lead at the break.
The game continued to go back and forth, and with a couple of minutes left in regulation, the Red Devils appeared to have the advantage. But four turnovers, coupled with three missed free throws in the span of 90 seconds proved to be Evanston’s undoing, as the Outlaws escaped with the 63-61 win.
“To be a state-qualifying 4A program, you have to win that game,” Cornia said. “With the Gillette tournament [the previous weekend], a lot of those games were decided six minutes into the fourth quarter. I don’t know if I had the guys prepared for a game that went down to the wire like that. We’ve talked about decision-making down the stretch, and repped it [in practice]. But they just weren’t prepared for the type of plays you have to make in the last minute-and-a-half.”
The Red Devils finished with three players in double figures, led by a double-double from Mason Ellingford, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. David Baxter again had the hot hand from behind the arc, sinking four 3-pointers en route to 19 points, while Dawson Crofts netted 10.
Though he only scored three points in the contest, Braxton Lind shined in other aspects of the game, pulling down seven rebounds and dishing off a team-high six assists.
“I thought Braxton Lind had a great game, and David Baxter offensively did some very good things for us,” Cornia said. “But I felt like that was a game where we were more even. And that’s the thing about this team — you can’t point at any one guy.”
Turnovers again were the Red Devils’ Achilles’ heel, committing 33 of them.
“Our offense right now produces too many turnovers,” Cornia said. “We’re giving teams easy baskets.”
Worland 69, Red Devils 68
Worland came into Saturday morning’s contest against Evanston as the No. 5 team in the state in 3A, and were riding high from a 62-44 dismantling of Class 4A Green River the day before. Facing their second 4A team in as many days, the Warriors proved Friday’s game was no fluke, handing the Red Devils their second loss in the game’s closing moments 69-68.
Evanston led 39-35 at the half, but Worland came out firing in the third, going on a 21-4 run to take a 13-point lead at 56-43.
The Red Devils battled back in the fourth, outscoring the Warriors 25-13, but a free throw at the end of regulation was the clincher, giving Worland the 69-68 win.
“That was probably the game we played the best,” Cornia said. “We only had one turnover in the first half, and that was our challenge — we tried to change our scheme. And I will say that Worland didn’t pressure us the way other teams had pressured us. It was a neck-and-neck game, and Worland is a good team. We were up eight points with 1:15 left, but ended the game with four turnovers, and lost on a no-time free throw.”
The Red Devils were led by Mason Ellingford’s second consecutive double-double, a 30-point, 11-rebound performance. Burke Thomas hit four 3-pointers to finish with 15 points, while Dawson Crofts netted 11.
Thomas led the team in assists with six, and finished tied with Jagger Mitchell, David Baxter and Crofts in steals with three apiece.
“Up by eight with 1:15 left, you have to win those games,” Cornia said. “All you have to do is control the ball and make free throws, and we didn’t put guys in position to do that.”
West Side, ID 74,
Red Devils 47
The Red Devils closed out the Flaming Gorge Classic Saturday afternoon against West Side, losing in head-scratching fashion 74-47. The Pirates held a slim 34-30 lead at the half, and Evanston seemed to have a little momentum heading into the break.
But turnovers once again became an issue in the second half, allowing West Side to outscore the Red Devils 21-10 in the third and 19-7 in the fourth to claim the lopsided win.
Mason Ellingford and Dawson Crofts paced the Red Devils with 13 points apiece, while Burke Thomas finished with 12 points; Crofts and Thomas hit a pair of 3-pointers apiece.
Senior Casey Periman started for an injured Braxton Lind and put up solid numbers, netting five points and pulling down seven rebounds.
After giving up a tournament-low 15 turnovers against Worland earlier in the day, that number jumped back up to 28 against West Side, most of those in the second half.
“That West Side game is unacceptable in Evanston boys’ basketball, from a lot of perspectives,” Cornia said. “As coaches, we take responsibility for that. Our only consolation is that none of our losses have affected seeding for regionals.”
The Red Devils will have a few days to enjoy the holidays, and then will be back on the road Jan. 9-11 for the Taco John’s Classic in Cheyenne. Cornia said the team will do some soul-searching during the break and come back ready to right the ship.
“We can no longer say ‘It’s early,’” Cornia said of the team’s 0-7 start. “We can’t chalk it up to first-game or first-weekend jitters. I’d say some fundamental parts of this program need to change. What’s been fairly effective over the last three years is no longer getting the job done.
‘Believing’ is a verb. It’s not just sitting there and hoping things get better, and I do think these guys believe in themselves enough to go put in that work and make it real. It’s definitely gut-check time right now.”