GAMER: EVANSTON 61, LA 51
Welcome to Lance Jones Arena.
Or, would you prefer Kevin Cunningham Palace?
The game’s top two stars turned in dazzling — and definitive — performances in a Class 4A boys basketball sectional semifinal game at the cozy Maine East gymnasium on March 6.
Razzle meet dazzle.
This Evanston-Loyola showdown figured to be good.
Just not in this way.
No one expected the top-seeded Evanston, which eventually won the game 61-51, to bust out to a 20-point lead in the first half.
Similarly, no one thought the fourth-seeded Ramblers would be able to grind down that lead … to zero.
Except maybe the Ramblers.
“Not all that surprising … ,” said LA head coach Tom Livatino.
Not for this team.
Not when you have Cunningham on your side.
The Loyola guard, who finished with 24 points on seven three-pointers, came up with some amazing shots during his team’s gallant comeback.
“Kevin left every ounce of his being on that court tonight,” said Livatino. “Proud of him. Proud of the team.”
Cunningham energized the Ramblers just before halftime, when he dribbled the distance of the court and beat the buzzer by draining a brilliant, diamond-studded three-pointer from the left wing.
It cut Evanston’s lead to a mere 11 points, 31-20.
It also got the Ramblers thinking: maybe we can do this?
“Halftime,” said Livatino, “was pretty subdued.”
Among other things, the coach told his team “to just keep chipping away.”
Thus, after ending the first half on an 8-0 run, the Ramblers kept it going by opening the second half with a 9-0 spurt on two more threes by Cunningham and one by Jordan Kwiecinski (10 points).
And voila. By the 3:55 mark of the third quarter — and thanks to a driving layup by Pete Mangan (9 points, 10 rebounds) — the game was back to ground zero: 35-35.
That proved to be the ceiling for LA (24-7).
Sixteen seconds after Mangan’s bucket, Jones went back to work by hitting a long three from the right corner. The Wildkits (23-5) eventually put the game away by scoring nine of the game’s last 12 points.
“We put ourselves in too much of a hole,” said Mangan. “We came out a little flat, and they pounced on us.”
The main pouncer was Jones. The Evanston guard tallied 13 of the game’s first 16 points. He ended up leading all scorers with 25 points.
“Lance is a special player,” Livatino acknowledged. “I thought we defended him decently. He made some great shots.”
Cunningham said that he’s been going up against Jones since the sixth grade.
“Playing against a guy like Lance brings the best out of you,” said Cunningham.