BELLEVILLE — After picking up two offensive fouls in the first three minutes Friday, Belleville East standout Malcolm Hill spent the rest of the first quarter on the bench.
That didn't stop him from finishing the game with 27 points and hitting 18-of-20 free throws in Belleville East's 72-61 Southwestern Conference victory over Edwardsville.
"Malcolm's a special player," Belleville East coach Abel Schrader said of the 6-foot-7 senior guard headed for the University of Illinois. "When he can focus, and he's driven and he's playing hard, he's really hard to guard. We've seen a lot of different types of defenses ... he's capable of having nights like this."
These were two of the top five teams in the Associated Press' Class 4A state poll, with East (19-2 overall, 9-0 in the SWC) ranked fifth and Edwardsville (17-2, 6-2) ranked fourth.
Edwardsville was first in the Belleville News-Democrat Large-School rankings and East was second, but the Lancers have handed the Tigers their only two losses this season.
With a near-capacity crowd of 1,900 on hand, East simply shot the Tigers right out of the game.
Edwardsville, which led 16-7 after one quarter and 26-25 at halftime, cut a seven-point deficit to two points with 3:48 remaining.
But baskets by Khalil Smith-Traylor and Cameron Hunter ignited an 11-0 run by the Lancers that put the game away.
"They put us in some binds defensively," Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said. "You've got to really try hard to keep 25 (Hill) from scoring and you get your defense extended a long way keeping him from scoring.
"You've got to give them credit. I'm not sure we did a lot of things poorly, I just think with the schemes they run and the players they have, they're hard to defend."
The Lancers didn't just camp out at the free-throw line. They pitched a tent, unrolled sleeping bags and began building a campfire at the charity stripe.
They sank 24-of-26 free throws, including 18-of-20 by Hill, and during the second half sank 14-of-their 17 field goal attempts. Attacking the basket was the Lancers' specialty and they were 23-of-38 from the floor (60.5 percent).
"I didn't realize that," Schrader said of the hot-shooting night. "But I think a lot of it was we got some decent looks against them. I don't think we forced a whole lot and with our guys, we're usually pretty much in attack mode and trying to kick (out)."
Hunter scored 14 points for the Lancers and Smith-Traylor had 10. Edwardsville got 13 points from Tre' Harris, 12 from Western Illinois University recruit Garret Covington and 10 apiece from Shawn Roundtree and Armon Fletcher.
Despite the two early fouls, Hill seemed determined to attack the basket. That led to Edwardsville fouls -- and plenty of Lancer points.
Hill scored only 10 points against the Tigers in a 55-48 Belleville East victory on Dec. 9 and hasn't had many huge games against them.
"I'm happy for Malcolm," Schrader said. "It's almost to the point where it's mental with them and the main reason is because Coach Waldo's such a great coach and he follows him. He puts two guys on him and they know where he's at at all times.
"(Hill) was able to get free a little bit, he got some points on free throws down the stretch. I was happy with the way he played."
With Hill out early, Edwardsville went on a 9-0 run to grab a 16-7 lead with three straight buckets from Fletcher powering the drive.
Once Hill returned at the start of the second quarter, the Lancers' offense caught fire. He scored 12 of East's 18 points in the quarter as the Lancers cut the Edwardsville lead to 26-25 by halftime.
Smith-Traylor grabbed the rebound of a missed 3-pointer by Hill and dropped in a put-back just before the half ended.
The game was the first of a rigorous hoops doubleheader for Edwardsville, which will face 3A state-ranked Cahokia (21-2) in the 8 p.m. finale Saturday at the Pinckneyville Panther Showcase.
"Cahokia's an excellent team and actually, they're a team a lot like the one we played tonight," Waldo said.