Althoff appeared to be on its way to another easy victory Saturday night. Instead, the Crusaders were forced to make clutch plays with the game on the line.
Junior Jordan Goodwin scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and senior Tarkus Ferguson scored 22 points as the Crusaders, who led by 16 points in the second quarter, survived 76-72 against St. Louis University High in the title game of the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East before a capacity crowd.
It was the second consecutive title for Althoff (17-2) in the tournament, and Goodwin earned the Most Valuable Player Award for the second straight time.
“I think it was a good test for us,” Goodwin said. “Usually, we beat teams by 20, 30 and stuff like that. We showed everybody we can win the close game playing against competition. SLUH did a good job of guarding us. They made some tough shots. I feel like we guarded well tonight, but Brandon played like Brandon plays.”
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Goodwin was referring to SLUH junior Brandon McKissic, who scored a game-high 31 points and was the sparkplug behind the Junior Billikens getting back in the game.
SLUH (12-6), which trailed 28-12 with 7:25 to play in the second quarter after an array of explosive plays by Althoff in the first eight minutes, led 59-57, 62-59 and 63-62 in the fourth quarter.
But senior Keenen Young had a rebound basket and followed with another bucket to put Althoff ahead 69-65, and Ferguson made two free throws to make it 72-67 with 1:48 left.
McKissic’s 3-pointer made it 72-70, but Ferguson’s basket and two free throws by Young in the final 47 seconds sealed the outcome.
“It stings a little bit,” McKissic said of the loss. “We failed to get back on defense in transition, which they’re amazing at. That’s what happened. We lost the game because of that.”
Junior C.J. Coldon (17 points) and Young (15) also reached double figures for Althoff. Senior Matt Nester had 17 points and five 3-pointers for the Junior Billikens.
“It was a great challenge for us,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “We were fortunate that we persevered it and got through it. We got better tonight.”
Other members of the all-tournament team along with Goodwin were Ferguson, McKissic, Belleville East’s Javon Pickett, Belleville West’s Tyler Dancy and Columbia’s Jonathan Holmes.
Belleville East 87, McCluer 65
East saw its seven-game winning streak halted Friday night against SLUH but quickly got back on track as it blew past the Comets behind 28 points by Pickett, a junior.
Junior Rico Sylvester and sophomore Malachi Smith added 12 points apiece and senior Jalen Jones had 11 for East, which shot 53 percent (25-for-47) and ran its record to 14-5.
“They did exactly what I asked them to do. They moved the ball better, shared it, got good shots and knocked down shots,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. “The only thing we did not do really well was defensive rebound. But I’m very happy with their effort. They were focused and ready to play. We needed to get this one.”
McCluer, which trailed 40-23 at halftime, was 0-3 in the tournament and fell to 5-10. Junior Ryan Hogue-Warren led the Comets with 18 points. McCluer shot 36 percent (28-for-77).
Pickett, meanwhile, was 8-for-12 from the field and 11-for-13 from the free-throw line. The Lancers were 23-for-28 overall from the line.
“Last night, we were a little upset,” Pickett said of the loss to SLUH. “Today, we just wanted to come out and play strong. That was the only thing we were talking about in the locker room. We wanted to go 2-1, not 1-2. We didn’t really run that much offense, but when we did get out and push it, I felt like we did a good job making shots.”
Belleville West 71, Columbia 60
The Maroons finished 2-1 in the tournament to improve to 7-10 overall, rallying from a 32-27 halftime deficit as Dancy, a junior, scored 22 points and corralled eight rebounds.
Junior Elijah Powell had 16 points and freshman E.J. Liddell chipped in with 15 for the Maroons, who were 12-for-16 from the free-throw line, committed just seven turnovers and shot 67 percent from the floor (27-for-40).
“Columbia played really well,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. “They were physical with us down low and we didn’t react to it real well in the first half. Our defense allowed dribble penetration and our bigs weren’t played 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7. They were playing 6-foot.
“So I kind of challenged our team at half: ‘They’re going to keep running it down our throats. We’ve got to hold our ground and do what we can do and play with high energy.”
That was the case after the break. Liddell’s blocked shot led to junior Jack Lanxon’s basket, and Powell followed with a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 32-32.
Columbia (13-4) led for the final time at 34-32 on senior Drew Huebner’s basket with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter. The Maroons took the lead for good at 41-39 on Liddell’s basket at 3:33 mark. West’s lead swelled to 15 points late in the fourth quarter.
“I’m pleased,” Muniz said. “I’m happy with where we’re at right now. I would have liked to win the SLUH game, but I still thought we played pretty well, and they’re a pretty dog-gone good team. We’ve just got to keep working and getting better.”
Holmes, a senior, topped Columbia with 22 points. Senior Korbin Farmer scored 15 points and controlled eight rebounds.
Despite his team absorbing losses to East, Althoff and West, Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom said the competition the Eagles saw in the tournament will make them better.
“This week will do wonders for us. It was a great experience,” Sandstrom said. “Did I want to come over here and lose three games? No. We could have very well won two. We’re walking out of here 0-3, but it got us in a place where we need to refocus a little bit. The three games this week will pay dividends for us later in the year when we get some things corrected.”