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Boys Basketball: Evergreen Park off and running in early going

By Steve Millar
Correspondent

After cruising through the Lisle Thanksgiving Tournament with three double-digit wins, Evergreen Park boys basketball team found itself in a close game down the stretch for the first time this season.

The Mustangs passed the test Thursday night, scoring the final six points of the game to break open a late tie and beat T.F. South 59-53 in a South Suburban Conference crossover in Evergreen Park.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we made enough plays to win it,” Evergreen Park coach Jim Sexton said. “T.F. South’s a tough team. They had a really tough Thanksgiving tournament (Chicago Heights Classic). They played Hillcrest and [Homewood-Flossmoor] and Bloom, and we had a little easier way at our Thanksgiving tournament, so it was nice to have some adversity and battle through it.”

Nolan Sexton led Evergreen Park with 19 points. Jalen Shepherd added 12 points and 10 rebounds, Bakari Nelson had 11 points and Malik Kelly contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Romelo Ali’s jumper with 1:19 left in the game pulled T.F. South (1-4, 0-1) into a 53-53 tie.

Jim Sexton called a timeout and drew up a play for his son.

Nolan came through, hitting a 3-pointer with 1:07 to go.

“We knew that, since they were switching, I would get open eventually,” Nolan Sexton said. “So, we were setting screens, the defender slipped and I got the open look there and made it, fortunately.

“We practice that a lot, so confidence builds from that.”

Nolan Sexton hit two free throws and Nelson made one in the final minute to seal the win.

Evergreen Park was hurt by T.F. South’s pressure defense in the second and third quarters as the visitors turned things around. The Mustangs led 16-8 after one quarter but trailed 41-39 after three.

They were able to turn the tables late as their own high-intensity defense caused turnovers that led to easy baskets.

“The best thing we did was transition,” Nolan Sexton said. “We got steals and we would go hard with it and convert them to baskets.”

Shepherd and Kelly, both seniors, had big baskets in the fourth quarter and guided their younger teammates.

“We have some good senior leadership and some young guys this year, so it’s a good mix,” Jim Sexton said.

That leadership role is one Shepherd is certainly happy to take on.

“I want to lead my teammates and do whatever is best for the team — getting steals, getting baskets, getting [Sexton] open so he can hit those shots,” Shepherd said.

Evergreen Park (4-1, 1-0) suffered its first loss of the season the next day, falling 64-21 to DePaul Prep.

The Mustangs return to SSC play Dec. 7 at T.F. North and are scheduled to be home Dec. 9 against Tinley Park.

Going forward, Shepherd is confident the team will continue to have success.

“I like a lot about this team,” he said. “We have a lot of two-way players who can play good defense and offense and we’re aggressive and like to get out and make plays. That’s going to help us win games.”

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