EDWARDSVILLE — Holding Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill and talented junior Darreon Reddick to a combined 18 points Tuesday seemed like a winning formula for the Edwardsville Tigers.
But Belleville East foiled the strategy by getting a career-high 20 points from Cameron Hunter and key contributions from others in a 55-48 Southwestern Conference victory.
It was the first SWC game for Belleville East under new coach Abel Schrader and his team helped him leave Lucco-Jackson Gymnasium with a victory.
The Lancers (5-0 overall, 1-0 in the SWC) began the day ranked second in the News-Democrat Large-School poll while previously unbeaten Edwardsville (5-1, 1-1) was first.
Edwardsville was also fourth in the Class 4A state rankings while Belleville East was sixth.
"It's a big game, it's a first game," Schrader said. "You don't want to over-hype it up, but I think our kids did some good things tonight."
Hill, a 6-foot-7 senior guard averaging over 20 points, didn't collect his first points until he scored with three minutes left in the first half. Hill had 10 points and only one field goal, but found other ways to make contributions against a swarming Edwardsville defense such as hitting eight of 10 free throws.
"In the first half he passed the ball good, when we would double him he would pick somebody out under the basket," Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said of Hill. "In the second half we did a little better job of making him throw it to somebody outside."
Schrader said it took a while for the Lancers to gain some footing offensively.
"They clamped down (on Hill) but they were switching defenses every other possession," Schrader said. "They'd go 1-3-1, they'd play man, they were in a triangle-and-two at times...it was confusing. We did work on some of that stuff, but you can't simulate in practice what Edwardsville has and what they can do.
"We had other guys step up tonight and play pretty well for us."
A big one was Hunter, a 6-foot-4 junior who was 8-for-12 from the floor. His nine first-half points helped Belleville East overcome a slow start to grab a 23-19 halftime lead.
"He didn't play a lot last year; he's got a lot of potential," Schrader said. "He was more under control in this game than he was in the past. He did some good things for us."
Hunter credited his teammates for his own success.
"I was going to do what I could that was best for the team, try to get the ball to Malcolm and Darreon a lot," Hunter said. "It just happened to be me step up. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have did what I did."
Tarrance Akins contributed nine points for the Lancers and Khalil Smith-Traylor added eight along with some frustrating defense on Edwardsville's Western Illinois University recruit Garret Covington.
Covington led all scorers with 22 points, but six came on late 3-pointers.
With both teams playing excellent defense, scoring was at a premium throughout the night. Belleville East opened up a six-point lead early in the third quarter only to watch the Tigers close to within 35-34 heading into the final quarter.
Belleville East remained aggressive on offense and kept attacking the basket, drawing enough fouls to make a difference. The Lancers were 19-for-28 from the free-throw line with Hill sinking eight of 10.
Belleville East's defense also forced Edwardsville into a tough shooting night. The Tigers hit just six of 21 3-point tries and were 16-for-46 (35 percent) overall.
"I think our guys executed a lot of things well tonight against an excellent team," Waldo said. "They've got a lot of length, they're athletic and they're well coached defensively. We had trouble making shots and I'm sure a big part of that was they were working hard to contest them."
The Tigers' trademark pressure defense forced seven turnovers in the first half and gave up few uncontested shots.
Hunter scored eight of Belleville East's first 12 points and tied the game at 12 early in the second quarter.
A 3-pointer by Shawn Roundtree with 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining brought the Tigers to with 44-39. A 3-pointer by Covington cut the East lead to five again with just over a minute remaining, but a 3-point play by Hunter with 48.3 seconds left pushed the lead back to eight and helped seal the win.
Roundtree had 13 points for Edwardsville and Tre Harris had nine.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.