GRANITE CITY — Sophomore guard Darrell Miller has been coming on this season for the Granite City Warriors.
Miller might have arrived for good Monday when he scored a game-high 20 points in the Warriors' 50-45 victory over Springfield in the first round of the Class 4A Granite City Regional.
"How about D.J. Miller?" Granite City coach Steve Roustio said. "There's a sophomore in his first regional game. I mean, think about it. Unbelievable."
The 6-foot-2 Miller was 7-for-11 from the field and made three 3-pointers as the fourth-seeded Warriors (12-15) won their first postseason game in Roustio's five years as coach.
Granite City will play top-seeded Edwardsville (25-2) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Tigers defeated the Warriors 76-55 and 71-40 in the regular season.
Senior Troy Garcia added 10 points for Granite City, while seniors Omar Walker and Devin Narvaez chipped in with nine apiece.
Senior Isaiah Nelson led the Senators (3-24) with 13 points, including 10 in the second half. Senior Avery Pearl had 10. Springfield hurt its cause with 19 turnovers and was 3-for-7 from the free-throw line.
"It wasn't our halfcourt defense (that hurt us). It was, literally, handing them the basketball," Springfield coach Matt Reed said. "We've had a problem with that this year. With our skill level, you've got to be able to protect the ball. It's a gold nugget. We didn't do that."
Roustio has seen Miller scratch the surface of his potential on several occasions this season.
Miller dunked on Belleville East senior and Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill on Jan. 11. Miller also chimed in with an overwhelming performance against Edwardsville in a sophomore tournament game, scoring 41 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
"He gets quiet points," Roustio said. "It was just like tonight. I knew he was in the teens, but I didn't know he had 20."
Granite City seemed to be in firm control when it led 42-32 after Miller's steal and layup with 6:03 to play in the game.
But sophomore Obediah Church scored for the Senators, who turned to the press. Pearl followed with back-to-back layups off Granite City turnovers, trimming Springfield's deficit to 42-38 with 5:18 left and prompting a Warriors timeout.
Miller hit a shot in the lane to make it 44-38 at the 3:24 mark, but Nelson answered with a deep 3-pointer to make it 44-41.
Miller missed a wide-open 3-pointer from the right corner before Nelson also misfired on a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Springfield grabbed the rebound, and after a timeout, Miller fouled Nelson as he attempted an off-balanced 3.
Nelson, however, hit just one of the three free throws with 22.9 seconds remaining, and the Warriors reeled off the next six points to clinch the outcome.
"We could never pull away," Roustio said. "We had a 10-point lead, a nine point lead ... and we could never bump it up to 13 or 14. We just couldn't. They would always come down and make a 3 and cut it to six or seven.
"They're better than their record. I remember playing on a team myself that didn't have very many wins. But our losses weren't by great margins. They've played people tough."
Springfield was without senior Robert Stephens for much of the second half. Stephens picked up his fourth foul with 7:14 to play in the third quarter and spent the rest of the period on the bench.
"But I give our kids credit," Reed said. "We fought back. It looked bad. We had one of our best players on the bench with four fouls early in the second half and we still jumped them a couple of times. We got back in the game. We had a chance."
Roustio knows the Warriors will be heavy underdogs against Edwardsville, whose only two losses are against Belleville East.
"We've played Edwardsville tough in the past, (but) they'll be focused," Roustio said. "Coach (Mike) Waldo will have those guys ready. There's nothing we're going to do that's going to surprise him, and those guys play hard. We've got to bring our 'A' game."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.