A crowd estimated at nearly 3,500 was treated to four Southwestern Conference basketball openers on Saturday in the first of a two-year commitment for the “SWC at the E” event at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Along with better exposure for the league, the night gave players a chance to play on a college floor in a shootout-like setting.
“It was like a perfect storm for this first year,” said Belleville West coach Joe Muniz, whose 3-1 team knocked off previously unbeaten Edwardsville 59-53 in the third of four games. “You had great matchups with great players and it wasn’t just one game, it was all four. The excitement our kids had and the smiles they had on their faces, that’s what it was all about. I think it was a home run in that regard.”
Among the more impressive performances of the night was seeing East St. Louis senior guard Reyondous Estes, fresh off helping the Flyers win a state football title as the quarterback, make his basketball debut.
Watching the University of Missouri football recruit fly all over the court making plays, his teammates fed off of his energy and came back to beat Belleville East 84-77 in overtime.
“I had it in me because before I actually came to the gym I was watching highlights and I was watching Lonzo Ball from UCLA,” Estes said. “Once I watched it, I felt like I could (perform). That’s what I did.”
Estes helped initiate the sequence that allowed the Flyers to reach overtime. He passed to sophomore Terrence Hargrove before Hargrove fed Arthur Carter for a layup just ahead of the buzzer to force the overtime period.
“My big brother, Arthur Carter, looked at me and said, ‘Let’s go. It’s go time,’” Estes said. “They put the ball in my hands and I made something out of it, and he ended up with a buzzer-beater. This boosts our confidence going into conference.
“I feel like this is going to build momentum going into conference play. I feel like this will lead us forward and up.”
Flyers coach Phillip Gilbert said Estes adds the voice of a leader along with an impressive skill set.
“Reyondous Estes, coming right off the (football) field ... he’s a leader,” Gilbert said. “He’s so tough. He put us on his back tonight and brought it home. Him coming from a state championship as a quarterback to the basketball court, these guys follow.
“All those guys have been playing together since elementary school. Once it comes together, it’s something special to see. We’ve still got work to do, but these guys stepped up big and I’m proud of them.”
Nashville Hornets win at Wesclin
Nashville capped a 4-0 start this season by getting 23 points from 6-foot-6 Brody Kemp and a combined 25 points from sophomore Bryce Bultman and senior Ryan Brink in a 61-52 championship game win over Wesclin at the Wesclin/Lebanon Tournament.
Nashville is coming off a 21-11 season that saw the Hornets also go 9-1 in the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference. The Hornets lost a two-time all-stater in Royce Newman, now playing football as a freshman at Ole Miss, along with starters Brady Bultman and Jaris Dalman.
However, this 4-0 start could be a sign of big things to come. Plenty of experience returned with Kemp, Brink and guard Hayden Heggemeier. Kemp and Brink both made the all-tournament team at Wesclin while 6-4 senior Langdon Briles also made solid contributions.
“We don’t have as much depth inside, but we’ve got a lot more depth at the guard spot,” Nashville coach Brad Weathers said. “Consistency is the main thing at both ends of the court. Our schedule is as strong as it has been in several years, because the people that are already on our schedule are projected to have really good years.”
Kemp is averaging 16.5 points while Brink is averaging 11.5, with Briles right behind at 10 per game.
Wesclin (3-1) reached the title game with a dramatic 60-52 overtime with over Columbia that saw 6-4 junior Hunter Ottensmeier erupt for 31 points.
A big second half helped carry Nashville to the title, but a young Wesclin squad made positive strides forward. Ottensmeier, an easy all-tourney choice, poured in 25 points in the tournament finale against Nashville while sophomore Nate Brede added 11 points.
Ottensmeier is one of the St. Louis region’s top scorers at 25.3 points per game and the Warriors are also showing a nice touch from beyond the 3-point arc. Ottensmeier and Brandon Courtney have eight 3-pointers each while Brede has seven and Justin Kellogg and Blake Rakers have knocked down four each.
Columbia lost junior guard and scoring leader Jordan Holmes to a badly dislocated finger in the overtime loss to Wesclin. Holmes is averaging 19.3 points through three games.
“His hand was going up and one of the Wesclin players ran by and caught it just right,” Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom said. “There was too much pressure and he dislocated it. He means everything to us, especially right now until we get our two sophomores some experience.”
One of those sophomores, 6-6 Jon Peterson, is the Eagles’ second-leading scorer at 16.3 points per game. That includes a 29-point outing in the Eagles’ 65-54 overtime win over Lebanon on Saturday.
Columbia senior Greg Long had 14 points and 15 rebounds in the game while senior Liam Knox added 11 points and six rebounds.
Third straight tourney title for Okawville
Okawville held off Pinckneyville 54-45 Saturday for a three-peat championship at the Carlyle Kaskaskian Classic. All-state senior and Evansville recruit Noah Frederking led the Rockets (4-0) with 24 points and brother Caleb Frederking added 10 as the Rockets were 22-of-35 at the free-throw line.
Noah Frederking also became the tournament’s all-time scoring leader.
On the way to the tourney championship, Okawville defeated New Athens (74-45), Flora (66-47), Hillsboro and 64-45.
Noah Frederking is second in the St. Louis area scoring race at 27.7 points per game while senior Shane Ganz (10 ppg) and junior Caleb Frederking (8.3 ppg) are also off to strong starts.