BELLEVILLE — O'Fallon faced first-quarter adversity Friday but managed to push it away.
Junior Donovan Franklin scored a game-high 24 points and the Panthers erased a 10-0 deficit in a 56-51 victory over Belleville East in a Southwestern Conference game.
"The first half, I wasn't doing so well; I wasn't knocking down any shots," said the 6-foot-6 Franklin, who had just four points at halftime. "But we came into the locker room at halftime and Coach (Rick Gibson) and my teammates were telling me, 'Keep the confidence. Just keep shooting it and it will fall.' That's what I did.
"It was real big for us. It gave us a lot of momentum."
The victory kept the Panthers in contention for the SWC championship. They are 14-9 overall and 7-3 in the league, one game behind Edwardsville and Alton with four to play.
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game," Gibson said. "It's two teams that are both in the mix, fighting for where we're going to be seeded in the (Belleville West) regional and where we're going to finish in the conference. We tried to stress to our kids all week what a big game it was."
The Panthers, however, were a bit shell-shocked in the opening stages as the Lancers (15-7, 6-3) scored the first 10 points of the game. Freshman EnRico Sylvester had two 3-pointers, the second coming with 4:21 left in the period and forcing a Panthers' timeout.
O'Fallon outscored East 23-9 in the final 9:55 of the first half to take a 23-19 lead at the break. The Panthers employed an aggressive 2-3 zone that had the Lancers out of sync on offense. East committed 12 of its 14 turnovers in the first half.
"I was really disappointed late in the first quarter and the second quarter when they went on a 23-9 run," Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. "We didn't have the same type of energy, effort and intensity in this game that we have in the past two, and it showed."
Schrader credited Franklin.
"Franklin's really good," he said. "He played really well tonight. He's a tough matchup for us. Pretty much, in the second half, he did anything he wanted."
Senior Darreon Reddick led the Lancers, who had won eight of their last nine, with 15 points. Sylvester had 14 and senior Brady Schanuel came off the bench and scored nine, seven coming in the fourth quarter when East had made it a one-possession game.
The Lancers, who had trailed 36-25 after Franklin's 3 with three minutes left in the third quarter, were within 50-47 when Reddick made two free throws with 58.4 seconds remaining.
After O'Fallon senior Isaiah Armstrong missed the front end of a one-and-one, Reddick's open 3 from the top of the key went off the back iron. Panthers senior Naason Cook followed with two free throws to make it 52-47 with 34.2 seconds left.
Reddick, who was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, scored to make it 52-49 with 26 seconds to play, but Armstrong answered with two free throws to make it 54-49 at the 19-second mark.
After Reddick's short jumper made it 54-51 with 12 seconds left, Franklin clinched the outcome with two free throws with 4.8 seconds to play, giving O'Fallon its fifth win in six games.
"He was a little down at halftime," Gibson said of Franklin. "He had missed (four) free throws, which is kind of uncharacteristic of him. He struggled a little bit getting some shots, but to his credit, he didn't let that affect him the second half. He came out even more determined."
The Lancers had no answer for O'Fallon's zone until the 6-2 Schanuel found some openings in the fourth quarter.
Schanuel opened the quarter with a basket to cut the Panthers' lead to 38-35. His three-point play on East's next possession made it 40-38, and he kept the Lancers close at 44-40 with another basket a little over two minutes later.
But Schanuel went to the bench with his fourth foul with 4:04 left in the period. He returned with the Lancers facing a 50-45 deficit with 1:33 to play, but he was unable to score again.
"He plays hard and seems to find opening," Schrader said. "He has good hands. When guys throw passes to him, he catches almost everything. He's a good finisher and he's crafty."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.