Just hours after learning that they had earned the number one seed in next weeks IHSA regional tournament at Belleville West, the OTHS boys basketball squad began a three-game stretch of Southwestern Conference tests that could have provided confirmation of their lofty ranking.
The results havent matched the expectations, however, as the OTHS squad dropped consecutive games to East St. Louis and Edwardsville during the past week, falling to 15-11 overall and 8-5 in league play with only the Alton Redbirds remaining on their regular season schedule.
On Tuesday, the Panthers traveled to Edwardsville and, according to OFallon coach Rick Gibson, did a lot of things right just not enough of them.
"Our kids did a good job battling back from several deficits," Gibson said. "We were able to force them out of their 4-corner offense in the second half when they had built a five point lead. At one point, we trailed by 13 in the third quarter but were able to cut the lead to three with the ball. At that point, we had one of our few turnovers, and they capitalized on it to pull back ahead."
OFallon carried the hopes and aspirations of several teams into the contest including.
Alton and Belleville East who were trailing Edwardsville in the league standings. The Tigers had enough firepower to dash the hopes of all three schools, getting 21 points from Arman Fletcher and 16 from Shaun Roundtree to take a 54-46 decision over OFallon and clinch the SWC regular season championship with an 11-2 mark. The Tigers are 24-2 overall.
The Panthers were led in scoring by junior Donovan Franklin who banged in 20 points. Sophomore Chance Armstrong pitched in with 10. A 12-4 run late in the second quarter gave Edwardsville a 30-23 halftime advantage that they patiently worked into a 13-point bulge in the third stanza before the Panthers made their run.
A 3-pointer by Franklin with 2:30 to play in the third period cut Edwardsvilles double-digit lead to three, 47-44, but the Tigers responded with five consecutive points.
OFallon could get no closer, cutting the lead to 52-46 with 17 seconds remaining in the game on a rebound basket by Franklin.
Fridays home date against the East St. Louis Flyers was a game of missed opportunities for OFallon. Having upset the Flyers on East St. Louis home court earlier in the season, the Panthers had a chance to double down on their dominance and take the first step in navigating a difficult final week of the regular season.
After a series of offensively successful outings which allowed Coach Rick Gibsons charges to win seven of their last eight contests, the Panthers fell flat in the early going and never fully recovered.
Icy shooting from the perimeter and failure to convert from the charity stripe put the Panthers under the gun quickly. They finished the night an abysmal 11-22 from the free throw line and did not register their first 3-point field goal until the second half. One of two free throws by Donovan Franklin and a lay-up by Naason Cook off a Darien
McClain steal gave OFallon an initial 3-0 advantage, but it was short-lived. East St. Louis took control of the momentum with a dominating effort on the boards and stellar free throw shooting.
The Flyers jammed the ball inside for easy baskets in the paint, and if the first shot missed its mark, they crashed the boards until they converted or a foul was called.
East St. Louis went 6-for-6 from the charity stripe the final two minutes of the period to take a 13-9 lead by the time the horn sounded. OFallon began to warm to the task after the first minute of the second stanza.
Darien McClain fueled the Panther awakening with a successful free throw attempt followed by driving lay-up from the top of the key.
Isaiah Armstrong added a rebound basket on OFallons next possession, and Donovan Franklin also banged in a put back as the halftime break neared.
Two free throws by Isaiah Armstrong and a lay-up on a 2-on-1 fast break by Chance Armstrong pulled the Panthers to within one, 27-26, as the two teams jogged to the locker room.
The Flyers began to apply more pressure in the full court at the start of the second half,and the tactic paid immediate dividends.
OFallon was whistled for a pair of violations and threw the ball away on two other occasions, giving East St. Louis a 35-29 lead when Gibson called a timeout to slow down the Flyers.
A pair of 3-pointersone from Franklin and the other from Bradley Harrison brought OFallon back from the brink. Harrisons bomb came at the end of the period and once again tied the score, 37-37.
The two teams traded baskets during the first two minutes of the fourth period, but OFallon continued to struggle from the free throw line. A Darien McClain runner in the lane and another 3-pointer by Franklin kept the Panthers within striking distance; however, East St. Louis didnt wilt under the pressure. East St. Louis Darrion Beane, saddled with foul trouble most of the night, returned to the court and scored 10 of his 12 points in the final frame.
Collectively, the Flyers hit on seven of their eight free throw attempts in the final minute and a half. The Panthers did not answer in kind.
Twice, OFallon players stepped to the free throw line with a chance to move within four points, but their shots clanged off the rim. With 28 seconds left, McClain connected on another leaner in the lane to reduce the East St. Louis advantage to 57-51, but it was as close as the Panthers could get, continuing success at the line sealed the victory for the Flyers.
Regional tournament play begins next week at Belleville West. The host Maroons face off against Collinsville on Monday night. The winner of that game is scheduled to face the Panthers on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. The other semi-final contest pits the Belleville East Lancers against the East St. Louis Flyers on Wednesday evening. The regional championship game will be next Friday in a tournament that appears up for grabs.