Tom Livatino wasn’t going to take any chances.
Desperate times call for desperate … (oh, you know the idiom).
In an effort to urge, compel, motivate and inspire (go ahead, fill in your own verb here) the heart and soul of his team — senior Ramar Evans — the Loyola Academy head basketball coach went to the way-back machine.
Livatino went all 1970 on Evans prior to LA’s regional title win over rival New Trier 43-40 at Zion-Benton High School on March 3. The coach sat down with the player, and the two of them watched a video of “The Willis Reed Game”.
Basketball fanatics — and retro NBA enthusiasts — know it well. In that game, Reed, a 6-foot-9 all-star center for the New York Knickerbockers, “miraculously” came back from an injury to play— and limp through — Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals. The long-shot Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 113-99.
“No one thought Reed would play,” said Livatino.
Which brings us back to Ramar Evans.
Things looked pretty dim for LA’s star guard after he went down with what looked to be pretty severe hip injury in Tuesday’s regional semifinal win over Highland Park. It put the muscular 6-2 guard out of commission. He sat out the final 12 minutes of that game.
New Trier head coach Scott Fricke was in attendance, scouting.
“After what I saw, it takes some kind of great athlete to come back from that,” said Fricke.
The quick-healing Evans, as it turned out, had no thoughts about missing the title game.
“Ramar got Ramar ready,” said Livatino.
And what about that Willis Reed video?
“That wasn’t going to sell me,” said Evans. “I was already sold. I was going to play anyway.
“I started feeling better by Thursday,” he added.
By game-time, all he needed were gobs of “Icy Hot” ointment and a touch of “adrenaline.”
“That’s a pretty good 1-2 punch,” Evans said.
Here’s another pretty good combination: Evans and the fourth quarter.
The Maryville University recruit came up with another decisive fourth quarter, when he scored nine of his game-high 15 points.
“We were struggling to score,” said LA teammate Matt Sechman. “So with about five minutes left, I went up to Ramar and told him that we needed him to score the ball.”
The biggest shot of the game, according to Fricke, was Evans’ three-pointer with 4:58 left in regulation. It gave LA (22-8) a one-point lead, 36-35.
“At that time, we were encouraging him to shoot the three,” the NT head coach stated.
Two possessions later — following a two-minute stall by the Ramblers — Evans struck again by taking a pass from Sechman, driving the lane and scoring a left-handed layup.
LA eventually went ahead by five points, 40-35, on a bucket by Julian DeGuzman (11 points, 3 rebounds).
But the Trevians (15-14) didn’t go away. In fact, following a rebound bucket by NT senior Dylan Horvitz with 9.2 seconds left and two missed free throws by Evans with 4.5 seconds left, it had become a one-possession game: LA 43, NT 40.
For New Trier, 4.5 seconds is Andrew Kirkpatrick time.
Two nights ago, in a regional semifinal win over Zion-Benton, Kirkpatrick hit the game-deciding shot with two seconds left to play.
So … there was Kirkpatrick — again — taking the inbounds pass, racing downcourt and heaving up a contested three-pointer just in front of the New Trier bench.
He just missed.
“I thought we executed that final play pretty well,” said Fricke. “The shot looked good [when he released it].”
Loyola Academy Game Balls: Ramar Evans, Julian DeGuzman
New Trier Game Balls: Andrew Kirkpatrick, Ciaran Brayboy
Player of the Game: Evans
Unsung Hero: Matt Sechman
LA Stat Leaders: Evans (15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), DeGuzman (11 points, 3 rebounds), Kevin Cunningham (7 points, 2 rebounds), Sechman (4 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists), Kris Lampley (4 points, 2 rebounds), Matt Lynch (2 points, 2 assists)
NT Stat Leaders: Kirkpatrick (13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists), Brayboy (8 points, 6 rebounds), Aaron Peltz (8 points), Griffin Ryan (5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), Dylan Horvitz (2 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists)
Notable: Loyola will face Evanston in a Class 4A Waukegan Sectional semifinal game on March 7 at 7 p.m. The top-seeded Wildkits (26-3) defeated Deerfield 59-42 in the Niles West Regional final on March 3. … There are a lot of ties between Loyola and Evanston. LA head coach Tom Livatino is an Evanston High School graduate and former Wildkits coach. LA assistant Paul Pryma is a former head coach at Evanston. And Livatino’s brother, Chris, is the current athletics director for the Wildkits. … The two teams usually play each other during the regular season — but not this year. “We didn’t schedule so that they could be freed up to play against national competition,” said Tom Livatino. “[The sectional semifinal] should be fun. But Evanston isn’t a fun team to play against.” … New Trier 6-foot-8 sophomore Spencer Boehm only saw limited time in the title game. Due to illness, he missed the team’s first two regional games against Lakes and Zion-Benton. … “We’ve had a lot of illness and played through a lot of adversity this year,” said NT head coach Scott Fricke. “We played our best basketball at the end of the year, and that’s what you want.” … LA advanced two players in the state’s three-point shooting contest: Jimmy Alexopoulos and Vahe Kalayjian.