Althoff came out of the gate with emotion and execution Tuesday against Belleville West in the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
The three-win Crusaders built a 14-2 lead over the Maroons in the first four minutes. But West, ranked third in the Class 4A state poll, quickly regrouped with a 12-0 run and marched to an 85-60 victory.
“They’re just so relentless on second shot attempts. We knew that coming in,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “Our kids came out and hit them with all we had. We needed a bigger wrench.”
West junior EJ Liddell scored 24 points to lead all scorers. Juniors Keith Randolph Jr. (16) and Jaylin Mosby (12) also reached double figures for the Maroons.
West (16-1), winner of 14 in a row, will play Champaign Central (10-5) in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday. It’s a rematch of the championship game of the Centralia Holiday Tournament on Dec. 30, a game West won 62-61.
West coach Joe Muniz was prepared for a battle against Althoff, citing the intensity that underscores any game between city rivals.
“They came out with a lot of energy and made a bunch of shots,” Muniz said. “We weren’t guarding real well (and) we didn’t make our shots. We had easy shots around the basket; we turned it over or didn’t convert. Credit goes to them. They came out (strong). But I thought our guys responded in a big way once we got regrouped and refocused.”
West put the hammer down to start the second quarter. The Maroons cut the Althoff lead to 16-15 on a free throw by Mosby to close the first quarter, then scored the next 13 points to move ahead 28-16. Senior Malachi Smith had five points and Liddell and Randolph had four apiece.
West’s lead was 41-28 at halftime and 55-30 with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
“They stepped up,” Leib said. “That’s why they’re the team they are. They answered (us); they didn’t lay down and start fighting among themselves. Coach (Muniz) got them settled and they went to work. That being said, it was a good experience for our guys to be able to come in here and be able to compete against a team like that. It only helps us grow.”
Senior Burke Watts led the Crusaders (3-14) with 11 points. Junior Khalifah Muhammad had nine points, seven coming in the first two-plus minutes.
Muniz is looking forward to facing Champaign Central for the second time.
“The next two ballgames, whether you’re playing for first or third, are going to be great games for the four teams in the winners’ side of the bracket,” Muniz said. “(Central) can shoot it. They shoot it very well. They’re a good team. You don’t make it to the championship game of the Centralia Tournament without being a good team.
“They’re going to pose some problems for us. We’re going to pose some problems for them. It’s going to be a good chess match. We’ll see what happens. We’re going to need two really good days of practice to get ready for Friday night.”
Champaign Central 84, Alton 50
The Maroons made 11 3-pointers and seized firm control of the game in the first quarter.
Senior Tim Finke, a Grand Canyon University recruit, scored 27 points and canned two of Central’s 3-pointers.
Senior A’Kieon Gill had 18 points on six 3-pointers, while freshman Khailieo Terry scored 10 points.
The Maroons led 27-9 after one quarter, 42-26 at halftime and 69-41 after three quarters.
Alton (10-6), which has dropped five of six, was led by senior Kevin Caldwell Jr.’s 13 points. Junior Malik Smith had 10 points.
Alton made eight 3-pointers, as the teams combined for 19.