Jemini Leckie steals the ball from a Green River player Jan. 25. Photo by Anna M. Kunz
EVANSTON — The Evanston Red Devils ended up winning just as convincingly as did their Lady Red Devil counterparts, but it didn’t start off that way. Evanston pushed their conference record to 3-0, to accompany their 10-6 mark for the season, with a 4A West Conference home victory over rival Green River, 51-35, on Friday night, Jan. 25, in their only game for the weekend, before another fantastic crowd.
Evanston is riding a four-game win streak, since beginning a series of five consecutive home stands in mid-January. The Wolves fell to 0-3 in the 4A West and 4-11 on the year.
The fourth-ranked Red Devils will square off against arguably the second-best team they have faced all season in the second-ranked Riverton Wolverines in a tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening from Riverton, in a rare Tuesday conference showdown, likely due to the Fremont County school hosting the Ron Thon Memorial Wrestling Tournament this weekend, Feb. 1 and 2.
The statistical leader in most categories for the Red Devils, senior Matt Johnson, controlled the opening tap, as his younger brother, sophomore Alek Johnson, received the tipped ball, crossed half-court, finding the elder Johnson streaking across the paint, and delivering for a sweeping lay-up for the first score of the game.
Corey Macioszek, one of two six-foot, three-inch starters for the Wolves, answered the score, and had a chance to give Green River the early lead with a three-point play, the old fashioned way, but missed the “and one,” resulting in the first of three tie scores in the early going.
The senior Johnson would score one again on a baby-hook, but that would be all for Evanston’s leading scorer, at 17.6 points per game, in the first half of play, putting the Red Devils up 4-2. Green River’s Zach Huber scored back-to-back buckets to give the Wolves their first lead, 6-4. The Red Devils didn’t seem patient in attacking Green River’s zone defense in the opening quarter, and fell guilty to the turnover bug, with six losses of possessions in that 6 to 4 score.
Evanston ended with six first-quarter turnovers, and uncharacteristically committed 21 for the game.
Red Devils senior Taylor Siemers picked up his second personal foul with just under three minutes left to play in the first, and was replaced by senior Bradi Purcell. The Wolves would get a point-blank bank shot from their other six-foot three-inch starter, wide body Hunter Rackley, a returning starter from last season.
When coach Rick Carroll’s Wolves were doubling up Evanston 8-4, Evanston coach Roy Barker called for a timeout. Green River had scored six unanswered, and led 9-4 on a Huber free-throw. With the first eight minutes in the books, the Wolves led 9-8.
The Red Devils got buckets from seniors starters Jemini Leckie, on an offensive rebound and stick-back and from Kade “Clutch” Lym to pull within one, with Evanston’s second leading scorer introducing the Wolves to his calling card — hitting buzzer-beaters, as he did, coming off of a Matt Johnson steal.
In the early going, there were three ties and two lead-changes.
Green River took an 11-8 lead scoring first in the second quarter. Six-foot senior Colton Welling came off the bench to hit a game-tying three, and barely missed a second attempt from downtown. But he wasn’t done.
With the game tied at 11, Macioszek gave the Wolves their final lead, at 13-11. Red Devil Austin Bowen, a six-foot, one-inch senior reserve, scored and was fouled in the act of shooting. Bowen completed the three-point play to put Evanston up, 14-13.
Welling went to a kick-out pass from Matt Johnson and connected on his second trey. With Evanston ahead 17-13, the Wolves called for a time-out. Both teams scored two more points, with the Red Devils owning a four-point advantage at the break, 19-15.
Green River made their first free-throw, but missed their next four — otherwise, the game could’ve been tighter, at least through the first half.
Both teams had their highest offensive output in the third quarter, as the Red Devils opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, and their first double-digit lead, which they held for the bulk of the third quarter, up by as many as 14.
Green River had no answer for Matt Johnson, who scored half of his team’s 20 on five field goals. Leckie had three buckets in the third, and Lym connected on Evanston’s third and final long ball. Evanston filled the lanes nicely on several textbook style fast-break opportunities, brought about by forcing turnovers on the Wolves.
The Wolves hit for 15, led by three deuces from Rackley. Blaine Christiansen,
Green River’s leading scorer at 9.1 points per game, hit the Wolves’ only three-point bucket, accounting for his only score of the contest. Rackley’s 10th point of the game, at the buzzer, cut the advantage to nine, making it a 39-30 Evanston lead going into the fourth. But that was as close as Green River got.
The Red Devils outscored the Wolves 12-5 in the final quarter to win going away, with Matt Johnson scoring six more, en route to game-high honors with 20, on nine baskets and 2-4 shooting from the line. The Red Devils’ double-figures lead forced the Wolves to come out of their zone defense, which had given Evanston some difficulties in the first-half, when they were not patient in their attack. Evanston was much more effective against the Wolves’ zone in the second half. Senior Nathan Chandler and freshman Brock Ehlers saw some time in the second half, and came back in with juniors Ben Kunz and six-foot, seven-inch, Cole Revelli to close out the game.
Matt Johnson’s 20 marked the fifth time a Red Devil had scored 20 or more, and the fourth for Johnson. Lym ended with 11, a shade above his 10.3 ppg average, on two deuces, one trey and 4-5 from the line. Leckie ended with four field goals for 8, Welling’s two three-point baskets represented a varsity season and career-high 6 points, with 3 apiece for Bowen and Siemers.
Evanston’s line consisted of 17 field goals, 3 three-pointers, 8-13 as a team from the free-throw line for 62 percent, to go along with their 21 turnovers.
Green River finished with 15 field goals, one three-ball, and shot just 29 percent from the line, converting 2 of 7, with 14 turnovers, unofficially.
Rackley and Macioszek reached double-figures with 13 and 10, respectively, to pace five Wolves in the scoring column. Huber ended with 7, Christensen had the lone Green River trey, and Wolves’ reserve Alex Wilde added a basket in the third quarter.
Red Devil basketball head Coach Roy Barker credited the Wolves.
“They did a good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do,” Barker stated, in his postgame interview, alluding to his own team’s lack of patience on offense. “We got in such a hurry, and started chucking the basketball, and were not running our offense. Part of that is due to their game plan of packing it in tight around our inside game, especially with Matt. But he’s got to kick the ball back out for open looks from the perimeter, which were there all night. We did a much better job of doing so, and attacking their zone, in the second half.”
The coach acknowledged the 21 turnovers his team committed as entirely too many, adamantly stating, “we absolutely must take better care of the basketball, but again, we didn’t do a very good job of adjusting to what they were able to take away. We did an OK job in the second half of running our offense, but we need to learn to finish.”
Finish had a couple of connotations in the coach’s mind — finishing on plays in their half-court offense, but also finishing a team off, when acquiring a big lead, and not allowing the opposing team to get back into the game. In short, the coach desires his team to develop a “killer instinct” to put teams away.
When looking ahead to Riverton, Barker is most concerned with the Wolverines’ point guard, Kade Salisbury. Barker is a proponent and believer that a basketball team’s success begins and ends with the performance of the floor general, and Salisbury gives him cause for concern.
“I don’t mean to offend anybody, but I think he’s as good as anybody,” Barker said of the conference leader in steals and the state leader in assists. “Salisbury can flat play basketball. He’s big, he’s long and he’s strong, leads his team, and he gets Riverton into whatever offensive scheme they need to be in, very well.”
Barker credited his team for not looking past Green River, as he mentioned assistant coach Jeremy Fessler terming the Green River match-up as a “trap game,” for the Red Devils, “but even though I would’ve liked us to play better defense and take better care of the basketball, our kids took care of business at home.”
The head coach noted his appreciation for the boisterous crowd, and believed his team would come out focused against the second-ranked Wolverines.
“I know we’ll play hard, and hopefully make a good showing and give them a run,” he said.
Barker closed with his belief that his team was coming into their own.
“I think they’re understanding their roles and who we are,” Barker said. “I believe they can build on that understanding, and become a better team.
The current 4A West Conference standings after last weekend look like this:
Evanston 3-0, 10-6
Riverton 2-1, 15-2
Kelly Walsh 2-2, 8-9
Natrona 2-2, 6-9
Rock Springs 1-2, 6-10
Green River 0-3, 4-11
The 4A East Conference standings are as follows:
Gillette 4-0, 14-2
Laramie 2-1, 12-3
East 2-1, 5-10
Sheridan 2-2, 7-9
South 0-3, 7-9
Central 0-3, 5-8
The Wolverines will be a smarting team, as before being upset by Kelly Walsh this past weekend, their lone loss was to the top-ranked Campbell County Camels in the Flaming Gorge Classic back in mid-December. The Wolverines had a sixth game win streak going into that one vs. two showdown, and strung together nine consecutive wins following that loss. They have defeated Laramie twice, regaining their number-two ranking from the Plainsmen.
Laramie has defeated Evanston twice. Riverton boasts the conference’s leading scorer in Xavier Webb, the conference and state’s leading rebounder and shot blocker in Seth Quayle, and the leader in field goal percentage in Jordan Belleville. They have three to four returning starters, with experience off the bench, so depth, good size and talent are qualities that have led to the Wolverines’ success.
4A scores from last Friday:
#1 Gillette 83 East 50
#4 Evanston 51 Green River 35
Sheridan 60 Central 59
Rock Springs 65 Kelly Walsh 54
and from Saturday:
#1 Gillette 65 Central 38
Kelly Walsh 37 #2 Riverton 32
#3 Laramie 65 South 32
#5 Natrona 67 Rock Springs 49
East 68 Sheridan 60
Other scores of interest:
#1 Star Valley 47 Mountain View 32
#2 Lyman 57 Jackson 45
#1 Star Valley 59 #2 Lyman 43
The Red Devils’ tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m., following the girls’ contest. Both the Lady Red Devils and Red Devils will also travel to Rock Springs on Friday, Feb. 1, for the first of two 4A West Conference meetings with the Tigers, completing the first half of the conference season.