BELLEVILLE — Perhaps remembering the way his team lost two of three to rival Belleville West last season, Belleville East senior guard Malcolm Hill delivered his own message Tuesday.
The University of Illinois recruit tossed in 17 of his team-leading 25 points in the second half and hit nine of 13 shots as the Lancers delivered a 74-55 Southwestern Conference victory.
"I just wanted to close the game out as soon as possible because that's my role," said Hill, who scored 12 of his 25 points during a dominant fourth-quarter run that shut down the Maroons for good. "I'm supposed to be aggressive for the team and that's what I did in the second half."
Top-ranked Belleville East (7-0) improved to 3-0 in league play while fourth-ranked Belleville West dropped to 4-2 and 1-2.
Belleville West senior guard Nick Van Osdale, headed to Division II Lindenwood-St. Charles, led all scorers with 29 points. Van Osdale had 25 through three quarters and 12 in the third quarter alone, but was guarded closely by Hill for much of the final quarter.
"I thought from the start (Hill) was more involved," said Belleville East coach Abel Schrader, who spent the past eight years as a Belleville West assistant before taking over the Lancers. "Not in doing anything out of the game plan, but more aggressive offensively. He played a little harder today."
The scary thing is the 6-foot-7 Hill is still not fully recovered from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that involves pain in the upper body along with numbness and tingling.
Tell that to teams that have watched him average nearly 20 points and eight rebounds through seven games.
"I'm still trying to get back to where I was last season," Hill said. "I'm still recovering, but I'm getting better and better every game. I've still got weaknesses I need to take care of such as rebounding and defense, but I should get it together by playoff time."
As has been case most of this season, Hill had plenty of help.
The Lancers had four players in double-figure scoring with Khalil Smith-Traylor (16 points), Cameron Hunter (13 points) and Darreon Reddick (12 points) also coming up big.
Smith-Traylor and Hunter each had 10 points in the first half.
"I just told them to be aggressive," Hill said. "It's not really strategized how we score. We just go with the game flow and whatever's given to us, we're going to take it."
With his team leading 35-27 at halftime, Hill started the second half with a dunk and a 3-point play to create a 10-point lead.
Van Osdale scored 12 of his team's 16 points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer that trimmed the deficit to three points at 44-41.
"We've been good friends for the past seven years; we played on the same AAU team in the summer for a long time," Hill said of Van Osdale. "I noticed he was scoring a lot, so I just wanted to step up and take the challenge to stop him."
The East defense was also intense, forcing 17 turnovers and taking nearly every other scoring option away outside of the relentless Van Osdale.
"He gave us everything he's got and Nick's a great player, too," West coach Joe Muniz said. "We just need to do a few more things to help him out -- setting some screens, taking care of the basketball ... but he had another good game tonight and kept us in there."
Muniz said the Lancers' height advantage bothered the Maroons, as did their relentless pursuit of rebounds.
East also hit 27-of-47 shots (57 percent) and was 17-for-20 at the free-throw line.
"The thing that concerned me the most was how aggressive they'd been all season long going to the offensive glass and tonight it really showed," Muniz said. "Their missed shots became their best shots and we didn't do a very good job of blocking out."
Muniz and Schrader came to West at the same time and the pair coached together for eight years. Schrader began as the Maroons' junior varsity coach, then later was given the freshman coaching job by Muniz to help prepare him better for head coaching.
Schrader is 7-0 as a head coach and should probably thank Muniz for the experience.
"He's got a pretty nice team, doesn't he?" Muniz said. "We're probably going to play against each other three or four times this year hopefully, at least twice for sure. It is unique and I'm happy for him because this is something he wanted to do and he's put in the time."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.