East St. Louis High basketball coach Tony Young would rather not make "Living on the Edge" the theme of his team's season, but so far those words have proven accurate.
The Flyers are 4-4 and two of those four losses are by one point -- 71-70 to Springfield Southeast and 67-66 to top-ranked Belleville East.
Last Friday, the Flyers dropped a 74-72 heartbreaker at home against Belleville West. The other loss was 49-46 to Decatur Eisenhower.
So when the Flyers held on to defeat Chicago power De La Salle 60-54 Saturday at the Midwest Showdown Shootout in St. Charles, Mo., Young was understandably proud -- and relieved.
"It's a testament to those kids, they stepped up Saturday and made some adjustments," Young said as his team hit four of its last five free throws and also took care of the ball down the stretch. "It just goes to show them that when you do things the right way at the end of the game --take care of the basketball, make free throws, don't turn the ball over -- good things happen.
"I'd like to think that was a first step in maturation for my team."
East St. Louis led 30-20 at halftime and held on despite a 33-point explosion by De La Salle star junior guard and Minnesota recruit Alvin Ellis.
Flyers senior forward Johnny McCray followed up a 26-point outing in Friday's loss to Belleville West with 15 points and 13 rebounds against De La Salle.
"Johnny's probably been the most consistent player on our team right now," Young said. "He bought into the system as far as being able to play on the block and working on post moves. He put the work in and it shows right now.
"He has a soft shot around the rim and a lot of great natural ability."
McCray is the Flyers' top scorer (13.8 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (8.1 per game).
"He's probably one of the most underrated guys in the conference right now and the area, if you ask me," Young said.
Flyers senior guard Deshawn Munson (12.1 ppg) added 10 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds against De La Salle.
"He's continuing to mature," Young said. "One of the things that's showing the level of his maturity is he's not a selfish player. He is so unselfish.
"He's a pass-first guard; he's looking to get everybody else involved. Deshawn makes everyone else on our team better by getting guys open shots and creating opportunities for them."
While the Flyers are getting used to tight games, Young believes the progress being made will result in more victories.
"If you do things he right way, you don't have to worry about losing a game by one or two points," he said. "We have to learn to continue to put a full game together."
Carlyle ends Central's streak
Heading into Friday night's game against Carlyle, the defending state champion Central Cougars had not lost a Cahokia Conference game since Jan. 9, 2009 against Columbia.
Carlyle snapped Central's conference winning streak at 38 games with a 40-37 victory Friday, the Indians' first over the Cougars since 2006.
The victory came despite Carlyle (5-1) playing without junior standout Matt Hilmes, out of the lineup since breaking a bone in his left hand Dec. 1 against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Central was 30-0 in league play over the last three seasons, winning the last three conference titles and going 94-9 overall. The Cougars (6-3) are 2-1 in the league this season.
"To be able to beat them without one of your starters and a kid that was your leading scorer, leading rebounder and an all-conference player last year, that was a big win for us," Carlyle coach Andy Palmer said. "We had some good balance, which we've had pretty much throughout the year. I think it came down to we just made a couple more shots than they did."
Both teams did their best to hurt their season shooting percentages. Carlyle was 11-of-33 (33 percent) from the floor and 12-of-23 from the foul line while Central hit just 13-of-46 shots (28.3 percent) while sinking eight of 15 free throws.
Palmer said a big factor in the win was Tyson Boehne's defense on Central's high scoring junior guard Jacob Timmermann. Timmermann had nine points on 4-of-17 shooting.
"He didn't score a lot for us, but he really played defense well," Palmer said of Boehne.
Cody Huels led the Indians with 10 points while John Becker and Alex Voss each had eight. Central got 10 points from Kyler Scheer.
"Hopefully we keep things in perspective," Palmer said. "We're 2-0 in the conference and we still have a lot of games to play."
Palmer said Hilmes will likely miss the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament, although there is a slim chance he could return before the tourney ends.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.