Junior Nick Grote picked the perfect time to make an impact for the Granite City Warriors on Friday.
Trailing Belleville East by a point with 5.9 seconds remaining, Grote scored on an offensive putback just as time expired to give the Warriors a 57-56 victory in a Southwestern Conference game.
The basket came on Grote’s first shot of the game, and the rebound was just his second total and his first on the offensive end.
“I saw Zidane (Moore) get the ball and put up just a crazy shot,” said Grote, who at 6-foot-8 is the Warriors’ lone true post player, “and I knew I just had to get the rebound if it missed.
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“It just happened to go into my hands and I put it back up. It went in.”
The winning points came off an East turnover on an inbound play from the Granite City baseline.
The inbound pass was knocked awry by the Warriors’ Justin Wiley before ending up in the hands of Moore, whose long, off-balanced 3-pointer was off the mark.
“I kind of doubled-clutched it,” said Moore, who led all scorers with 19 points. “But fortunately, my 6-8 big man was there to get the rebound and put it back.”
The victory was the second in a row to come in buzzer-beating fashion for the Warriors.
On Jan. 11, a Davontay Moore 3-pointer as time expired lifted Granite City to a 51-49 win over East St. Louis.
That ended a string of 35 consecutive losses for the Warriors against the Flyers.
Friday’s win ended a four-game Granite City (5-11, 1-6) losing streak against East.
“The basketball gods seem to be smiling on the Granite City Warriors,” said first-year Warriors coach Gerard Moore. ‘I have to give so much credit to these kids. They just fight.
“They’re learning that when you play hard, you will get rewarded.”
It was the second straight late-game loss for Belleville East.
In the Lancers’ previous outing, they fell 58-56 to Collinsville in double overtime.
“That ball just fell in his hands,” said first-year East coach Jeff Creek. “Our guys thought the game was going to be over when they first shot the ball — but it wasn’t — and they stopped playing, and Granite City did not, and the kid got the rebound to beat us.
“They outplayed us in every aspect of the game.”
It wasn’t the game’s final minutes — which saw Granite City score the final six points — that truly upset Creek. It was the opening eight, where a sloppy first quarter by the Lancers allowed Granite City to grab a 19-12 lead.
“I am not that unhappy with what we did at the end,” said Creek, whose team turned the ball over six times in the opening period. “It’s how we came out and played with just no effort, acting like all we had to do was go through the motions.
“I’ve got to figure out some way to change things up, maybe find some new players.”
Foul trouble for Gordon and Moore helped East fight its way back into the game.
But surviving that foul trouble was also key for the Warriors.
“I was proud of how our kids played without our two best ballhandlers. You really did not see much panic,” said Moore. “That’s what allowed East to come back, but we did not let them get away.”
Granite City’s lead was down to 28-26 at halftime, and by the start for the fourth, the Lancers were up 40-37.
A Kienen Waller free throw provided East’s final point and had them ahead 56-51 with 42 seconds left.
Two free throws from the Warriors’ Jerry Watson made it 56-53 with 31.1 seconds left.
Following an East turnover, a Watson layup cut the deficit to one.
That basket was followed by an immediate timeout with 5.9 seconds left, setting the stage for Grote’s game-winner.
Granite City’s Moore topped all scorers with 19 points. Gordon and Wiley both finished with 11.
Jaylen Lacey paced East with 15 points, one more than Jordan Yates. Riley Barnes tallied 10 points off the bench for the Lancers.
East will host its own 2018 Chick-fil-A Classic beginning Tuesday. The Lancers will face second-seeded Chaminade in a quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Granite City will play in the Nashville Invitational Tournament next week. The Warriors will open against Mater Dei on Monday.