DECATUR — Freshman Jeremiah Tilmon was on the bench with foul trouble for most of East St. Louis' game against Springfield Southeast on Saturday night.
But the Flyers still had all the answers as they ripped the Spartans 61-46 in the third-place game of the Decatur Turkey Tournament.
Senior guard Dominic Nelson and the 6-foot-9 Tilmon each scored 13 points while senior Darrion Beane chipped in with 12 for the Flyers (2-1), who took the lead for good on a dunk by Beane early in the second quarter.
"We've got a lot of good players; we've got a lot of people coming back from last year as well," Flyers coach Tony Young said. "Jeremiah is a great addition, but we've got to remember Jeremiah's not everything to this team. He's still young."
Tilmon scored six quick points in the first quarter, but his second foul landed him on the bench with 1:56 left in the period.
Tilmon played the final 18.8 seconds of the first half, then was on the floor for just 10 seconds of the third quarter before he was whistled for his third foul.
Tilmon came back into the game with 4.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter, then helped East Side pull away with seven fourth-quarter points. Tilmon registered his fourth foul with 4:42 to play in the game and was replaced with the Flyers ahead 59-39.
"He's going to be a great player one day," Young said of Tilmon, one of the top big-man prospects in the country. "He's an all-right player right now. But we've got other guys.
"We've got Nelson as a senior. He's a big-time player for us. We've got Terry Beckner, Jesse (Douglas). All the big men, Terry, Jesse and Tyrone (Riley), they did a great job for us today."
Beckner, Douglas and Riley turned in a supreme defensive effort against Spartans senior Jalen Henry, a 6-9 center headed for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Henry and junior teammate B.J. Hill shared game-high scoring honors with 13 points, but Henry was harassed throughout the contest as he went up against the 6-5, 260-pound Beckner, the 6-2 Douglas and the 6-5 Riley.
"Until we start doing a better job of handling physicality, teams are going to attack us that way," said Southeast coach Lawrence Thomas, whose team is 1-2. "They just got physical with us. Even when the big guy (Tilmon) went out, they continued to stay physical. They were more aggressive in every position tonight."
Nelson, the Flyers' quarterback in football, had just one practice for basketball before East Side's first game. He's already providing the energy, emotion and leadership expected by Young.
"It's hard work," Nelson said. "In that one practice, every rep counted and I did what the coach asked me to do. He prepared me well. (The transition) is not really tough if you're willing to make the change."
Nelson said losing to Oak Lawn Richards 7-6 in the semifinals of the Class 6A playoffs Nov. 23 was difficult to swallow, but he laid it to rest.
"We lost a rough game, but the past is the past," Nelson said. "I had to let it go and I had to come help my basketball players. It's not helping them if I lean on the past. I've got to give the same attention that I gave football to basketball."
Douglas added eight points for the Flyers and senior Justin Smith had seven.
East St. Louis led 11-3 in the first quarter, but a 9-0 run by the Spartans gave them a 12-11 lead at the end of the period.
Beane's dunk and the first of Nelson's two 3-pointers in the game made it 16-12, and the Flyers led 27-18 at halftime.
The Spartans clawed back to within 35-31 on a basket by Henry with 3:15 to play in the third quarter, but East Side went on a 14-3 run that gave it a 49-34 with 5:03 to play in the game.
"It seemed like it was 35-31 for like two minutes," said Thomas, who was close considering the actual time of it being a four-point game was 1:50. "We had possession after possession after possession and we got nothing out of it. Next thing I know, I looked up and it was 41-31."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.