BELLEVILLE — After scoring 27 points Tuesday in a 61-54 victory over Althoff, Belleville East senior Malcolm Hill took a few minutes to visit with some children who asked to get pictures taken with him.
The 6-foot-7 guard may be headed for the University of Illinois, but Hill still remembered what it was like to be in those kids' shoes.
"It's cool. I like to give back to the community because I remember being a kid growing up and looking up to other players," Hill said. "I remembered how much I liked that, so I like to show them as much respect as possible."
Averaging 25 points a game, Hill shows no respect to area teams with his ability to shred defenses and get to the free-throw line seemingly at will.
When Althoff cut the East lead to 46-42 on a bucket by Kevin Renner with 5 minutes, 56 seconds remaining, Hill quickly sprayed water on the comeback fire.
With a defender hanging on him in seemingly solid position, Hill got up a little quicker, a little higher, and drained a shot. He also was fouled on the play and added a free throw, sending the Lancers (20-2) well on their way to another victory.
"With the training I did, I know how to find open shots," said Hill, whose team also beat Althoff 61-51 on Jan 16. "I cleared a little bit of space and just wanted to shoot over the defense. That's what happened."
"He really wasn't open, but he made a tough shot," said East coach Abel Schrader, whose team was fourth in the latest Associated Press Class 4A state rankings and first in the News-Democrat Large-School poll. "Malcolm does what he does -- and more than every once in a while he makes really tough shots."
With Althoff employing a triangle-and-two defense throughout the first half trying to hold down Hill and junior point guard Darreon Reddick, East's Khalil Smith-Traylor blew up that strategy early in the second half.
"We told him to be aggressive since they were showing him open shots, so we told him to take the shots and he got a hot little streak going on," Hill said. "We have a lot of great players on this team that can score the basketball. I tell them to be as aggressive as possible."
Smith-Traylor drained eight straight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to pull the Crusaders out of the zone. He finished with 14 points and Cameron Hunter added 11.
"Khalil Smith-Traylor was big for us," Schrader said "In the first half all they were doing was trying to take away Malcolm and Darreon and packing it in. It's really hard to get anything really productive out of it.
"You try to set screens, but when you make open shots it helps."
The Lancers' lead reached 13 twice in the third quarter, but Althoff (11-9) wouldn't go away.
Senior guard Kevin Renner scored 15 of his team-leading 19 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. A shot by Renner cut the East lead to four, but the Lancers pulled away late.
Hill is always dangerous with the ball in his hands, but doesn't have to score to create that danger. He has no trouble dishing the ball off to teammates, or blowing past defenders on the way to a layup or another trip to the foul line.
"He's such a tough player," Althoff coach Greg Leib said. "We tried to guard him with three (players) a couple times and it didn't work out very well. It's a great resource to have."
Riding the hot start of freshman Brendon Gooch, Althoff jumped on top 11-8 after one quarter. Gooch scored 11 of the Crusaders' first 15 points and finished with 15.
The teams battled to an 18-18 draw before the Lancers began exploiting their size and strength advantage. Hill had 10 of his 13 first-half points during the second quarter to help fuel a 12-4 run that helped Belleville East close out the half with a 30-22 lead.
"We'd run two or three guys at him and he still gets to the rim," Leib said. "He's as quick a player as we've seen in a long time going from the 3-point arc to the basket."