Led by University of Illinois recruit and senior guard Javon Pickett, the Belleville East Lancers reeled off four straight victories to win the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament.
The final one was the toughest as the Lancers knocked off the host Centralia Orphans 47-38 on their own floor Saturday, never an easy place for visiting teams. Pickett, named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player, led the way with 22 points while Malachi Smith had 11 points and Rico Sylvester added nine.
Smith and Sylvester also made the all-tournament team.
“We feel good about that one,” Belleville East coach Abel Schrader said of the Lancers’ win over the Orphans. “We were down 11-0 to start the game and the players had some poise about them, started getting a better shot selection and made it a little tougher on them to score. The difference-maker was our defense.
“We took them out of a lot of things they wanted to do, which is not easy to do against Centralia. We just tired them out and had a lot of guys that just battled throughout.”
Schrader is happy with the 4-0 start, but the Lancers’ first three Southwestern Conference games are against East St. Louis on Saturday, Edwardsville (Dec. 6) and Belleville West (Dec. 13).
He’ll probably have a much better idea about his team after that tough stretch.
“All three have size, and all three are very good. The depth of the conference is incredibly strong this year,” said Schrader, who has seen a difference in Pickett’s game so far. “Javon has the ability to create a shot by himself, but I think his shooting has gotten better and he’s really trying to be a good defender on the ball and off the ball.
“He’s really trying to be a good leader, too.”
Pickett and East St. Louis senior center Jeremiah Tilmon each signed with the Fighting Illini earlier this month.
Pickett had 25 points in each of the Lancers’ first two games, then dropped to nine against Jerseyville before finishing strong with 22 against Centralia. Pickett is averaging 20.5 points and 5.8 rebounds while Smith (17.5 ppg) and Sylvester (12.5 ppg) have also been effective.
“Any time that you can win a game against Centralia, especially on Centralia’s home court, you’ve got to feel you did something good,” Schrader said.