Foul trouble may have plagued Belleville West big men Tyler Dancey and E.J. Liddell, but with a little help from their teammates, the Maroons still came away with a 59-45 Southwestern Conference win over the O’Fallon Panthers on Friday night.
Liddell, a 6-foot-6 freshman, picked up two fouls in the game’s opening 2 minutes, 46 seconds while the 6-7 Dancey was saddled with his second foul a little more than 90 seconds into the second frame, forcing the Maroons to play long stretches without its strong inside tandem.
But spurred by six second-quarter points from Dalton Fox and five from Andy Behrmann, the Maroons (9-11, 4-6 Southwestern Conference) were able to withstand a strong second quarter from the Panthers and take a 29-28 lead into halftime.
Sparked by back to back 3-pointers from Elijah Powell, the Maroons then broke the game open with a 22-6 second-half run — including a stretch where they put up 16 straight points — that began midway through the third period and extended almost five minutes into the fourth.
“With both of our big men out, we knew we had to work hard to get good shots,” said Fox, who scored all 10 of his points in the first half. “Coach said teams are going to focus on EJ and Tyler, so we need to be ready to play and tonight we were.”
After missing his team’s 59-49 loss to Edwardsville last weekend because of the flu, West coach Joe Muniz was back on the bench and pleased with what he saw.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had that kind of foul trouble to start a game,” Muniz said. “And I thought Andy and Dalton did a great job in Tyler in E.J.’s absence to help keep it close.
“I was not really happy with the way we guarded, but to go into half down one, I was happy. Then we played much better in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, we were able to force them to go to man (defense), which allowed us to use our size and length to our advantage.”
For O’Fallon, the second half was eerily similar to a 51-41 loss handed them by the Maroons on Jan. 5 in Belleville.
In that contest, the Panthers led 16-5 after one quarter and still maintained a 24-17 lead at halftime. But in the second half, they were outscored to the tune of 26-7.
This time, the West advantage was 30-17.
“They switched up their zone in the second half and we were just not making shots,” said O’Fallon coach Rick Gibson, whose team dropped to 6-14 overall and 2-7 in the SWC. “And once they got that lead they were able to spread us out and their big men are a tough matchup for us.
“If we could have come out of that third quarter with the lead, maybe it’s a different game.”
A Jarvus Smith free throw with 5:13 left in the third period gave O’Fallon its final lead at 32-31.
But Powell quickly followed with his back-to-back treys, putting the Maroons in front for good.
“Those 3’s by Elijah were huge,” Muniz said, “because they were packing it in there daring us to shoot the ball. Andy and Tommy (Evans) also hit some big 3’s and that’s huge for us, because that opens up things for E.J. and Tyler.”
Despite their foul trouble, Liddell and Dancey were not silent.
Dancey finished with 15 points and eight rebounds while Liddell had 11 points in his limited minutes. The pair also combined to score 14 of their team’s 16 fourth-quarter points as the Maroons easily kept the Panthers at bay.
Trailing 12-9 after a quarter, O’Fallon played its best basketball of the game in the second period, spreading the floor and exploiting open lanes in the West defense.
Junior guard Ryan Fulton had seven points in the quarter for O’Fallon and a putback by Alex Orr had the Panthers in front 28-26 in the final minute.
But Behrmann drained a 3 with 30 seconds remaining, which sent the Maroons into the break up by a point.
“With Dancey and Liddell out of there (in the second quarter), I think we felt more comfortable and our kids did a good job going to the basket,” said Gibson. “But we could not continue that into the third quarter and they went off on that big run.”
Armstrong, O’Fallon’s top scorer for the season, finished with 11 points, all in the first half. Fulton and Jalen Hodge also scored 11 points for the Panthers.
Fox joined Liddell and Dancey in double figures for West with his 10 first-half points.