The way it was drawn up on the dry-erase board, Javon Pickett was supposed to get the ball with the game on the line.
But with Columbia defense focused on Belleville East’s top scorer, and Lancers senior sharpshooter Drew Millas left all by himself, Rico Sylvester elected to pass it to the outside instead.
The Lancers were trailing by a point with 2.3 seconds left when Millas drained the 3-point shot to give East a thrilling 68-66 win over Columbia at the Chick-fil-A Classic on Wednesday night.
“They were playing man-to-man and I liked our chances of Javon getting a quality shot,” said Belleville East coach Abel Schrader. “But the guy on Drew slid inside, I guess to help, and Rico and Drew made eye contact. Sometimes players just make plays and Drew hit a big shot for us.”
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Even though the Lancers needed only the two-point basket to take the lead, Millas said he never hesitated to take the 22-footer.
“I’m pretty confident when I shoot the ball,” he said. “That’s just how I always do it.”
The loss, just its second of the season, was crushing for Columbia, which led most of the second half and was up by as much as seven in the third quarter.
“We took it away inside on the out-of-bounds play and the kid hit a 22-footer. I know he’s a good shooter, but that’s a tough shot in that situation,” said Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom. “That’s the biggest school south of Interstate 80 and little old Columbia from the Cahokia Conference went toe-to-toe with them.”
The Lancers improved to 13-4 and will continue play in the tournament with a 7:30 p.m. game Friday against St. Louis University High. The Eagles (13-2) are back at it Thursday against Althoff, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 3A.
Columbia took the biggest lead of the night when Ryan Gudeman scored on a short jumper to make it 46-39. But East went on a 10-2 run.
Pickett, who earlier this week announced his commitment to play at Illinois, scored on a pair of dunks off Columbia turnovers to put the Lancers ahead 54-48 and ignite a vocal student section.
The Eagles were not done, however.
Gudeman and Jonathan Holmes each hit a pair of field goals to spark a 10-2 run that put the Eagles ahead 65-62. A 3-pointer by East’s Jalen Jones tied it again and Columbia took the lead when Holmes hit the first of two from the foul line.
Millas’ go-ahead shot left 2.3 seconds on the clock for Gudeman, who got off a buzzer shot from 15 feet away, but was blocked by Jones to preserve the win.
“Columbia is a good basketball team and they probably should have beat us — I give them all the credit,” Schrader said. “I am proud of the fact that the guys didn’t quit and kept fighting. Eventually they made a play to win the game.”
Pickett led the Lancers with 22 points to go with seven rebounds, and Jones added 17 points. Millas finished with nine points.
Holmes scored a game-high 26 for Columbia. Gudeman had 14.
Belleville West 58, McCluer 44
The Belleville West Maroons, behind a third-quarter run and a career-best performance by senior Tommy Evans, won their fifth out of seven games at the tournament.
Evans netted 15 points in the win over McCluer. His performance addressed an on-and-off issue the Maroons have had in relying too much on junior Tyler Dancy and freshman E.J. Liddell for their offense.
Both hit double digits again, but it was Evans’ eight third-quarter points that put a comfortable distance between West and McCluer.
“In the third quarter we needed somebody to step up and make some shots,” said West coach Joe Muniz. “What they did defensively kind of threw us off a little and we needed somebody besides E.J. and Tyler to knock some shots down. Tommy came up huge.”
It was a career game for Evans, who got his chance when guard DeAndre Jackson got poked in the eye in the second quarter and was unable to return. Evans entered the game having scored 31 total points on 11 field goals this season.
“I was just tired of losing and I felt like somebody had to step up after our great point guard DeAndre Jackson went down,” he said. “I just knew I had to step up and help the team get the win.”
The Maroons also got a boost from their defense, which held McCluer sharpshooter Ryan Warren-Hogue to 16 scattered points. Junior guard Jack Lanxon, who got the start, and Chris Cruse were a factor.
“I think we guarded really well,” Muniz said. “(Warren-Hogue) is a dynamic player and we did a good job keeping track of him. Some of their other guys stepped up and made some shots — and you have to credit them — but we did a good job closing the lanes and keeping them away from the basket.”
The Maroons impoved to 6-9 while McCluer fell to 5-8. West returns to action at 6 p.m. Thursday against St. Louis University High. McCluer plays Althoff at 6 p.m. Friday.
West opened a 26-24 lead at halftime and McCluer tied it at 27 early in the third quarter.
Evans scored eight straight points during a 17-4 West run. He had a point taken off the board when it was determined he had a toe on the 3-point arc on a shot from the corner.
McCluer made a small run to start the fourth when Warren-Hogue sparked an 8-0 run with his fourth 3-pointer of the game, but Liddell and Dancy were able to work their way inside for points and bonus shots from the line.
Dancy, who also had a game-high eight rebounds, was sent to the line for bonus shots four times during the game.
“Both E.J. and Tyler did a good job getting to the glass,” Muniz said. “Yeah, we missed some shots, but they did a good job getting up second and third shots.”
Dancy scored a game-high 17 points and Liddell added 16. The pair combined to shoot 13-for-18 from the free-throw line.
Warren-Hogue’s 16 led McCluer, which also got 12 from Sydney Satterwhite.