Belleville West coach Joe Muniz and his Maroons kept waiting for a comeback that never unfolded Thursday.
West fell behind in the first quarter and were unable to recover in a 57-46 loss to St. Louis University High in the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
The Maroons could never get going on offense and couldn’t contain the hot shooting of Junior Billikens senior Matt Nester, who scored 23 points and was 7-for-10 on 3-pointers.
“We had a hard time guarding him tonight,” said Muniz, whose team fell to 6-10. “He was the difference in the game. We were right there and he would hit a 3 or hit two 3s. They do a good job running him off screens, and I think he feels like when he’s going off a screen, he can knock down that shot.”
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SLUH (11-5) limited the Maroons to 38-percent shooting (15-for-39), including 0-for-10 on 3-pointers. The Junior Billikens finished with nine 3s, including two by sophomore Matt Leritz. Junior Brandon McKissic was limited to six points, but had nine rebounds.
There was no flow to the game. We just could not get that run going. I think we needed a big bucket from somebody, and we just didn’t get it. It was a tournament game against one of the best teams in the St. Louis area. You should have a lot of energy and be excited to play. I didn’t think we had good energy all night.
Belleville West coach Joe Muniz
“We’re a defensive team, first of all,” said Junior Billikens assistant coach James Washington, speaking on behalf of head coach Erwin Claggett, who departed soon after the final buzzer. “We pride ourselves in defense. Lately, we’ve been really trying to put an emphasis on playing defense without fouling.”
The 5-foot-11 Nester scored 10 points more than his average this season. He said he felt confident throughout the game and was never hesitant to shoot.
“Every time I caught it, I was looking to shoot,” said Nester. “I was thinking about the next shot and how it was going to feel. It was coming off the hand real nice and I was going to let it fly.
“In the first half, it was a choppy game. Brandon couldn’t get any fast-break points because they kept getting free throws, and David (Jackson) couldn’t get out and run. That took away a lot from our offense, but luckily I was able to hit some shots.”
Nester’s parents are from Belleville. His dad, Daniel, went to Althoff. His mom, the former Nicole Stegmeyer, went to Belleville West.
The Maroons, who trailed 15-7 after one quarter and 27-21 at halftime, closed within 34-29 on a layup by junior Elijah Powell with 3:29 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Junior Billikens suppressed the comeback bid, going on a 14-2 run on a 2 1/2-minute stretch late in the period and into the fourth quarter.
Nester had three 3s in the surge, the last of which made it 48-31 with 7:23 left in the game. The Maroons closed within eight with 3:36 left, and within seven with 1:02 to play, but never posed a serious threat.
“There was no flow to the game,” Muniz said. “We just could not get that run going. I think we needed a big bucket from somebody, and we just didn’t get it. It was a tournament game against one of the best teams in the St. Louis area. You should have a lot of energy and be excited to play. I didn’t think we had good energy all night.”
Freshman E.J. Liddell led the Maroons with 14 points, while junior Tyler Dancy had 14. No other West player was in double figures. The Maroons committed 18 turnovers.
Sophomore Mikey Sanders Jr. handed out seven assists for SLUH, which will face Belleville East at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Maroons will be off Friday, then return to action with a game against Columbia at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Althoff 93, Columbia 50
The Crusaders took control in the first quarter, using a 22-0 run to grab a 24-2 lead over the Eagles, who were coming off an emotional 66-64 loss to Belleville East on Wednesday.
“It was a combination of a lot of stuff,” Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom said, acknowledging the difficult loss to East. “I was kind of hoping we would get a disinterested Althoff, and we didn’t get the disinterested Althoff. I’ve seen them play a lot this year, and I think that was one of their best performances of the entire year in the first half.
“They shot it very well. We gave them the glass and we also gave them offensive transition, and those were our two biggest (concerns) coming in. It basically fed the animal there, and when they get going in those two different categories, they really get going. It was a chain reaction of a lot of unfortunate things for us.”
Althoff (15-2) got 22 points and three 3-pointers from senior Tarkus Ferguson and 21 points and seven 3-pointers from junior Marvin Bateman. Seniors Jordan Goodwin (12 points) and Brendon Gooch (11) also reached double figures. Junior C.J. Coldon scored nine.
The Crusaders finished with 13 3-pointers and 16 assists.
Althoff led 47-21 at halftime after Bateman swished a 30-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer. The margin swelled to 77-33 after three quarters.
“The guys came out and played with really good enthusiasm,” Crusaders coach Greg Leib said. “Their defensive awareness was really good. We tried to get them ready to go.
“It was a good effort by the kids. Columbia’s got a really good ballclub. I’m pleasantly pleased with how we came out. (Columbia) had a tough road to hoe with that tough game last night, and we had an opportunity to be fresh against them.”
Senior Jonathan Holmes led Columbia (13-3) with 18 points. Senior Drew Huebner had eight points and senior Korbin Farmer had nine rebounds.
“Let’s face it: They’re a lot better than us,” Sandstrom said of the Crusaders. “They have to have a night where they don’t shoot it well in order for somebody to have a chance. They shot it well tonight. We took a couple of timeouts early to try to stop the bleeding, and the bleeding didn’t stop.”
The Crusaders shot 52 percent (25-for-67) from the field, compared to just 40 percent by Columbia (19-for-47). The Eagles also were charged with 18 turnovers.
Althoff will play Friday against McCluer at 6 p.m.
David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm