The road woes continued for the Evanston High School boys’ basketball team in Cheyenne over the weekend, though not before giving the No. 3 team in the state all they could handle.
The Red Devils opened play Friday against the No. 1 team in the state in 4A, falling to Cheyenne Central 63-25. Evanston bounced back Saturday with a strong showing against No. 3 Cheyenne East, using a tenacious defense to hold the top-scoring offense in the state to well under their season average in a close 54-46 loss.
“I thought that we had a lot more energy, and I thought we played harder, especially on Saturday [against East],” said EHS head coach Rob Watsabaugh. “Central beat up on us a little bit, but I thought we had good bounce back against East. We worked a little more, and we played a little harder than we have in the last four games, so it was good to see improvement from our guys in that respect. They stuck with it and competed.”
At 0-5, the Red Devils are off to a less-than-favorable start, though Watsabaugh said there were plenty of positives to be gleaned from the Cheyenne trip. That said, eliminating costly turnovers and grabbing a few more rebounds will be the keys to success moving forward.
“I think the main thing we need to focus on and tighten up is our turnovers, and giving up offensive rebounds,” Watsabaugh said. “Those have hurt us all season, so our focus is still going to be mostly on us moving forward, trying to shore up offensively taking care of the ball, and defensively having all five guys hit somebody and rebound the basketball, not give up second-chance opportunities.”
The Red Devils will finally have the chance to play in the friendly confines of Uinta County this weekend, beginning with an interclass matchup at 3A Mountain View (3-3) Friday; that will be followed by Evanston’s home opener Saturday against Lyman (3-3).
“We’re slowly understanding how hard we have to play for an entire game, all four quarters,” Watsabaugh said. “Nothing will be easy this season, at all. I think we’re also understanding our defensive concepts — being able to rotate, and guard our man. Offensively, we’re starting to see the looks that we can get. Our head is up a little more, we’re seeing the play before it happens. We’re getting good, open looks, we just have to take care of the ball. We won’t look into the matchups a whole lot — we need to continue to learn to play together, and play hard. I want our guys to empty the tank every single day this week.”
Cheyenne Central 63, Red Devils 25
It was a fired-up Red Devils squad that took the floor Friday against the top team in the state, and for just over a quarter, it was a back-and-forth affair. With the score knotted at 9-9 after the first quarter, the Red Devils briefly took the lead to start the second on a 3-pointer by Jagger Mitchell.
The lead was short-lived. however, as momentum quickly swung to Central, and stayed there. The Indians went on a 18-0 run to take a 30-12 lead at the break; they pushed that lead to 51-14 after three. Evanston was able to snap their scoring drought in the fourth with 11 points, though Central coasted to the 63-25 win.
“I thought we had incredible energy in that first quarter,” Watsabaugh said. “I think we may have been overly-excited to go up against Central, and we weren’t able to sustain what we came out with. Central bothered us inside — posting up and getting to the rim easily, without much resistance. We hadn’t seen a team like that, that really likes to pound it inside, and they took advantage of us there.”
Burke Thomas and Wade Bowen paced the Red Devils with six points apiece; Braxton Lind and Junior Zermano followed with five points each, while Mitchell rounded out the scoring with three.
Bowen led the team in rebounds with five, while Mitchell dished off four assists and grabbed three steals. As a team, Evanston had 19 turnovers.
“We didn’t take care of the ball very well, but we did start the game well. If we could sustain how we were playing in that first quarter — I think we used all of our energy and emotion in that first quarter, and we really couldn’t get that back. It was hard to find that and bottle it up for the rest of the game.”
Cheyenne East 54,
Red Devils 46
Faced with another tall task Saturday, the Red Devils shook off Friday’s rout to give the No. 3 Thunderbirds all they could handle in a close 54-46 loss.
East came into the contest averaging 75.5 points per game, tops in the state in 4A. Evanston responded to the challenge by holding their hosts to a season-low 54 points.
“I was proud of the way we did bounce back against East — a very high-powered offensive team that likes to get up and down the floor,” Watsabaugh said. “They attempt a lot of 3-point shots, and I thought we did a pretty good job of containing them in transition, and not letting them get up a lot of threes early. They had to work for their shots, and that was our goal — to have high, active hands, and make them think about taking tough shots with a man in front of them. For most of the game, we did a pretty good job of that.”
East led 31-20 at the half, with Burke Thomas pacing the Red Devils with 11 second-quarter points. The Thunderbirds maintained an 11 point lead after three at 44-33, though Evanston cut the lead to five midway through the final frame at 49-44. That was as close as the Red Devils would get, as East held on for the 54-46 win.
“I told our guys, ‘They’re going to want to shoot, we have to be disciplined. We have to stay on the floor, not go for shot-fakes, and have high, active hands, and keep a man between the rim and an offensive player,’” Watsabaugh said. “I think we did a pretty good job.”
Thomas finished with a team-high 14 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Braxton Lind overcame foul trouble in the first half to come alive in the second, netting 12 points; Jagger Mitchell and Wade Bowen finished with six points apiece. Bowen led the team in rebounds with six rebounds.
“We got into a little bit of foul trouble early — Braxton had to sit early for a bit, and that kind of hurt us, because he was guarding their shooter,” Watsabaugh explained. “We mixed up our matchup on Graedeyn Buell — he got about his average, but as a team, I thought we played harder. I liked the effort we put forth on Saturday.”
Turnovers continued to plague the Red Devils, who finished with 23 for the contest.
“We cut our turnovers down by four or five, it’s a tie ball game,” he said. “I think we had 23 turnovers, and it was still an eight-point game. If we can shore up a few of those possessions, it’s a different game. It was good to see us compete, and I think our guys are understanding that the effort they put forth Saturday will be expected, if we’re to stay in games and give ourselves a chance to be successful.”