BELLEVILLE — If there is one thing Belleville West coach Clayton Fisher learned a long time ago, it's that there are no easy games in the Southwestern Conference.
Entering Thursday with just one SWC win, the O'Fallon Panthers stayed close for a half before the athletic Maroons took over and went on for a 59-39 win.
Ranked 13th in the Class 4A state poll, West held a 25-16 lead late in the second quarter before O'Fallon (6-15, 1-9) went on an 8-0 run to trim West's lead to a point.
A basket by sophomore Imani Berry put West up 27-24 at halftime.
Sophomore Shay Fluker then hit a 3-pointer in the opening 15 seconds of the third quarter to ignite a 9-0 run as West opened a 36-24 lead.
"I didn't think we played bad in the first half. It wasn't that we were doing anything wrong. It was all O'Fallon," Fisher said. "Coach (Ryan) Massey had his girls ready to play and they came out and did a lot of good things against us in the first half.
"The second half we came out and hit some shots early. We're not normally a good shooting team so when we come out and shoot the ball well, we can be very good.''
With Fluker scoring 10 of her 13 points in the second half and Imani Berry and 6-foot-5 junior Jesheon Cooper finishing the night with 16 points apiece, West pulled away in the final two quarters.
The Maroons (18-7, 9-2) led 47-29 after three quarters and O'Fallon never got closer than 13 the rest of the game.
"I thought my girls played hard and in the first half we just sat back defensively. We didn't come out on them,'' Massey said. "But than they had some girls step up and hit shots they don't normally hit. Alliyah St. John hit two 3-pointers on us and I think she had one all year coming into tonight.
"When we got down we had to come out on them and that's what they want. Because their guards are so athletic, they can spread the floor, penetrate and create good opportunities.''
West had six turnovers but still led 19-12 after one quarter as Cooper scored on three short jumpers and St. John and Imani Berry connected on 3s.
The lead grew to 25-16 when Cooper again scored inside midway through the second quarter.
But O'Fallon, getting four points from junior Ally Warren and a basket apiece from Ciara Jones and Jasmine Bonds, scored the next eight points to draw within a point.
West retook the momentum when Fluker hit a 3 to start the third quarter. Cooper scored on a jump hook from the lane, Imani Berry canned a 13-foot jumper and Fluker scored again on a layup as West completed the 9-0 run.
Warren stopped the Maroons for a minute when she scored after collecting a loose ball under the basket, but when Fluker and St. John scored 15 seconds apart, West led 40-26 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
"We're more patient in that we're not forcing the ball inside as much as we were early in the season,'' Fisher said. "Our guards are making better decisions with the basketball and as a result we're getting better looks.''