BELLEVILLE — For the Belleville East Lancers it was all about winning ugly Wednesday at the Chick-fil-A Classic.
Senior Cameron Hunter made eight of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter -- and gave his team the lead for good with two charity tosses with 2:36 remaining -- as the host Lancers rallied for a 43-40 win over highly touted Madison College Prep.
East (11-5), which trailed 14-13 at halftime and 30-28 after three quarters, managed just two field goals in the final period, but connected on 11-of-13 attempts from the free throw line.
East was just 2-of-10 from the line in the first half.
"To be honest about it. That's the way we have to win," East coach Abel Schrader said. "We have to play hard, play good defense and be able make plays down the stretch and tonight that's what we did.
"This is a big win for our basketball team. That (Madison) team is a very athletic and talented squad.''
Hunter led East with 16 points while senior Austin Cox added 11. Cox was clutch when the Lancers needed him the most.
The 6-foot, 3-inch guard scored eight of his 11 points in the third quarter as he helped keep his team close.
Madison Prep (13-4) jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the opening four minutes of the game, but managed just four points the rest of the half. One of the St. Louis area's top teams, the Bears went more than nine minutes without a field goal.
East, getting six points from junior Brady Schanuel, closed the gap to 14-13 by halftime.
"I thought we battled hard on the boards and were able to hold our own, even though they (Madison) Prep were a little bigger than we were inside,'' Schrader said. "We also did a good job on the defensive end of the court. We spend a lot of time working on that and tonight the kids responded well.''
Arlando Cook led Madison Prep with 16 points.
Normandy 44, Belleville West 43
Romalus Tabb scored on an offensive rebound with 12.3 seconds remaining as the Vikings prevailed in a hard-fought win over the Maroons.
Tabb, who led all scorers with 20 points, slithered in between two West players and gently banked home the game-winning shot.
West, which had taken a 43-42 lead with 53 seconds left on a 3-pointer from senior Cade Dibadj, got the ball back with 11.9 seconds left.
But a shot by Eugene Jones from deep on the baseline was long and time expired as the two teams scrambled for the loose ball.
"The play was drawn up to where we wanted penetration and then kick the ball out. He (Jones) got pushed too the side more than we wanted,'' Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. "It's disappointing because we had a chance. We just needed to keep possession and we just didn't do it.
"But this game wasn't lost in the last minute. It was lost in the first quarter when were sleepwalking. How you can sleepwalk in the opening game of a tournament, I don't know but we did.''
Jones led the way for West (3-11) which trailed 27-18 at halftime, but rallied to take the lead twice in the fourth quarter. The final time came on the clutch 3 from Dibadj.
"It's a case of the kids making the plays in the end. Romalus did that for us tonight. He's a very athletic player, but he's still got a long way to go,'' Vikings coach Terrence Hailton said. "I'll be honest about it. We've struggled at times during the first half of the season, but we've played a little better recently.
"It's all about getting ready for the postseason.''
Tarrick Blair added 12 points for Normandy (6-7).
Using their quickness and athleticism, the Vikings broke a 6-all tie with a 13-3 run over the final four minutes of the first quarter.
The 6-6 Blair and 6-5 Tabb led the charge, scoring 10 of the 13 points, most of which came on offensive cutbacks and from simply beating the Maroons down the court.
West, getting four points off the bench from 6-5, 240-pound freshman Tyler Dancy, cut Normandy's lead to 23-18 late in the second quarter.
But baskets by John Nelson and Blair in the closing 45 seconds of the first half increased the Vikings' lead back to 27-18.
West didn't help itself on the offensive end of the court. The Maroons missed at least six shots from within three feet of the basket and committed nine turnovers in the first two quarters.