O'FALLON — For the first 32 minutes Friday, the O'Fallon Panthers outhustled, outrebounded and outscrapped the Belleville East Lancers in a Southwestern Conference game at the Panther Dome.
But O'Fallon couldn't stop Malcolm Hill.
Hill connected on six straight free throws in overtime and finished the game with 34 points as East escaped with a 67-61 win.
Ranked fourth in the Class 4A state poll but coming off a loss at East St. Louis a week ago, the Lancers were lethargic from the beginning against an O'Fallon team which entered the game with just one SWC win and just six victories for the year.
O'Fallon (6-16, 1-9) led by as many as 12 points in the first half and played the top team in the SWC tough all night. But just when it appeared the Lancers were going to win in regulation, the Panthers got a miracle 30-foot 3-pointer from sophomore Donovan Franklin with six seconds left, tying it at 57 and sending it to overtime.
Senior Todd Porter gave O'Fallon a two-point lead with a pair of free throws to open the overtime scoring, but a 3 from Lancers senior James White put East up 60-59.
Hill, coming off a 37-point effort against East St. Louis, then drained six straight free throws to clinch the win as East maintained its one-game lead over Edwardsville in the battle for the SWC title.
"Malcolm has done that for us this year," said first-year East Abel Schrader, whose team improved to 21-3 and 10-1 in the SWC. "He wants the ball in his hands in close games and once again tonight he made big plays down the stretch.
"But from my standpoint O'Fallon out-toughed us tonight. They got loose balls and they outrebounded us. They absolutely out-toughed us. It's a win and we'll take it. This is a tough place to play.''
Led by quick sophomore guard Darien McClain and Franklin, the Panthers wasted little time in asserting themselves before a large home crowd.
McClain and Franklin combined to score 15 points as the Panthers took a 20-11 lead after the first quarter.
Sophomore Parker Roustio scored inside early in the second quarter as O'Fallon's lead grew to 26-14.
But East closed the half with an 11-4 run behind the 6-foot-6 Hill, and trailed 30-25 at intermission.
O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson was pleased at how his team played.
"They're too strong. We knew East would make a run at us. But I was proud of the kids effort. We worked on some things this week and I thought we went out and executed very well,'' Gibson said. "But we've got a lot of young kids and to be honest they just haven't been in that kind of big-time situation like it was tonight.
"We haven't been in that many close games, so we haven't been in that position to know how to win. I think this game was good for us to have. We played all right. We really did.''
East took its first lead with a 7-0 run as Patrick Smith hit a 3 and Hill scored inside twice to put the Lancers up 32-30.
But O'Fallon wouldn't go away.
"Give O'Fallon credit. Rick (Gibson) had his team really ready to play tonight and it did a great job,'' Schrader said. "But our guys have to look in the mirror a little bit to see where we're at and what we need to do.
"One thing is that we have to get tougher especially on the defensive end.''
The Lancers led 43-38 after three quarters. But O'Fallon made five 3-pointers in the final period -- two apiece coming from Franklin and junior Naason Cook.
Cook hit his second 3-point shot with 57 seconds left, pulling O'Fallon to within three points and when Franklin hit his long 3 with the clock winding down, the game was tied at 57.
East then turned the ball over, but Franklin's half-court shot at the buzzer fell short.
Franklin led O'Fallon with 23 points, while Todd Porter chipped in with 11.