COLLINSVILLE — The East St. Louis Flyers were unseeded in the 29th annual Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic.
East Side began the tournament with a 4-6 record, although five of its losses had come by three points or fewer.
First-year East St. Louis coach Tony Young could have moaned and groaned about not being seeded. But he and the Flyers let their actions do the talking, and it resulted in their second championship and their first since 1999.
"I'll be honest with you: We didn't think about it. We didn't think about it at all," said Young, who consistently speaks with candor. "It's one of those things where you come to play basketball. You can't think about something like that."
Being seeded was a bit of curse this year. None of the top-seeded teams, No. 1 Belleville East, No. 2 Chatham Glenwood, No. 3 Springfield Southeast and No. 4 Lincoln, reached the finals.
"I'm happy to be a part of it," Young said. "But at the end of the day, we have confidence in ourselves and we know what we can do. Seeded or not, we've got to go out and play hard."
East Side ripped Urbana 65-39 on Thursday and Oakville, Mo. 62-46 on Friday. On Saturday, the Flyers got a last-second shot by senior Travon McCray to nip East 41-40 in the semifinals, then held off Quincy 60-52 in the title game.
Seniors Johnny McCray and Deshawn Munson led the Flyers (8-6) against Quincy (11-2), whose 11-game winning streak was halted.
"They're a good team. Well-coached, well-disciplined. They did a lot of good things," Young said of the Blue Devils, also unseeded. "Our thing was we just had to continue to try and execute. We had to continue to play defense. Defense is what really got us over that hump. Our guys kind of smothered them a little bit and went hard."
Young credited his players more than his own strategy when discussing the Flyers' ability to shut down the Blue Devils.
"That's the sign of a good team," he said. "I didn't have an answer; my kids had an answer. A lot of that stuff, I get the credit for it. But these kids came out and played the game."
McCray had 17 points and eight rebounds and Munson had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Both players scored in double figures in each of the Flyers' wins and earned spots on the all-tournament team.
The Flyers return to the court at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they visit Granite City (8-6) in a Southwestern Conference game.
"When your guys are playing well at this part of the year, you hope it only continues to get better," Young said.
Hill earns MVP
Belleville East senior and Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill, who was voted Most Valuable Player, needed 32 points in the third-place game against Collinsville to break the tournament scoring record.
Hill, however, finished with 23 in the Lancers' convincing 52-33 win, giving him 110 points in four games. The record of 118 is shared by Cuonzo Martin of East St. Louis Lincoln (1988) and Ryan Harrow of Walton, Ga. (2008).
Hill averaged 27.5 points in the tourney, went 31-for-37 from the free-throw line and had 14 blocked shots. Hill had seven blocks in the semifinals against East St. Louis.
Completing the all-tournament team were: Munson and McCray, East St. Louis; Martin Kvitle, Quincy; Falando Wilkinson, Collinsville; Herman Senor, Springfield Southeast; Tyrin Williams, Riverview Gardens; Max Cook, Lincoln; Alex Sorenson, Dunlap; Cole Abbey, Quincy; and Omar Walker, Granite City. Williams led all scorers with 113 points.
East looks forward
The Lancers were one second away from protecting their top seed and reaching the championship game.
After Hill's 3-pointer put East ahead of the Flyers 40-39, Travon McCray's 15-foot buzzer-beater dropped the Lancers (12-1) to the third-place game and avenged East St. Louis' 67-66 loss to East on Dec. 7 in Belleville.
"We kind of feel like it's a disappointment to win third," Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. "But we went 3-1 in a very good tournament and a very tough bracket. I think we're happy where we're at. We wish things would have been different against East St. Louis, but it didn't happen that way."
East opened with victories over Riverview Gardens (82-71) and Decatur MacArthur (63-50) before running into the Flyers. Hill scored 33 against Riverview and 34 against MacArthur.
The Lancers are developing into a more complete team. Hill, obviously, leads the way. But senior Khalil Smith-Traylor and juniors Cameron Hunter and Darreon Reddick pose a threat to every opponent. And senior James Cotton gave East some muscle in the paint during the tournament.
Schrader said the Lancers will use the week to work on rebounding and sharpening their offense against pressure defense. He was displeased with the way East handled the Flyers' 1-3-1 press.
"We have to start games better," said Schrader, whose team will play the Kahoks again at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Collinsville. "We have a tendency to be very lackadaisical. We've got to be more prepared to start games and play more consistent --with better effort."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.