Belleville East paid for a sluggish start to its game Friday against St. Louis University High.
The Lancers fell behind 51-31 midway through the third quarter, then rallied to within four points before the comeback fizzled in a 71-63 defeat to the Junior Billikens in the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
Junior Javon Pickett, who recently gave a verbal commitment to Illinois, scored 23 points and junior Rico Sylvester added 22 points and three 3-pointers for the Lancers (13-5), but their performances weren’t enough as East saw its seven-game winning streak halted.
“They’re a good team,” Sylvester said of the Junior Billikens (12-5). “They’re stacked all over. It’s a tough one, but we’re just going to get back and try to beat McCluer tomorrow.”
Never miss a local story.
East, which was limited to 39-percent shooting (18-for-46) will close the tournament against the Comets at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
It will be a good game. They’ve got a great team over there; they’ve got some really good players. It will be a good matchup. I hope we’re able to go out and compete without a lot of outside stuff. They shoot the ball really well. You’ve got to stay glued to guys and keep them in front. We’ll be ready to go.
St. Louis University High coach Erwin Claggett on playing Althoff on Saturday
SLUH junior Brandon McKissic led all scorers with 25 points, and it was his three-point play with 2:13 to play that put the Junior Billikens on top 65-58. It began a 7-0 run that shut the door on East’s determined attempt to pull out the game.
“McKissic is a good player,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. “And they’ve got a little size. That’s a good team. They play in a conference (the Metro Catholic) that has Chaminade, Vianney, CBC. All those teams would be on top of our (Southwestern) conference, so it’s not like they’re not used to playing against (good) competition.”
SLUH built a 39-24 halftime lead, then broke ahead 51-31 on senior David Jackson’s basket with 3:57 left in the third quarter. Pickett then caught fire, scoring 12 points and getting East within 62-58 with a rebound basket before McKissic’s layup and free throw created separation.
“We had another sluggish first half,” said Schrader, whose team trailed Columbia 33-30 at halftime before winning 66-64 on Wednesday. “We didn’t play very well in the first half. At least we didn’t give up and get beat by 20.”
SLUH shot a sizzling 58 percent from the field (25-for-43) and hit seven 3-pointers.
“The second half, it seemed like the game slowed to a snail’s pace. There wasn’t any rhythm to the game,” Junior Billikens coach Erwin Claggett said. “Fouls started piling up and they shot a ton of free throws (33 in the game).
“McKissic is a hell of a player. Tonight, we knew we needed a good effort out of him. He was ready to battle. All the guys were. It was a collective effort.”
SLUH will need a victory over powerful Althoff at 8 p.m. Saturday to win the tournament.
“I love it. It will be a good game,” Claggett said. “They’ve got a great team over there; they’ve got some really good players. It will be a good matchup. I hope we’re able to go out and compete without a lot of outside stuff. They shoot the ball really well. You’ve got to stay glued to guys and keep them in front. We’ll be ready to go.”
Althoff 103, McCluer 75
McCluer was more than willing to play with pace and that was fine with the run-happy Crusaders, who coasted to their second straight tournament victory.
Althoff (16-2) placed five players in double figures and reached 100 points when junior Ryder Goodwin popped a 3-pointer from the top of the key late in the game. It was the Crusaders’ first 100-point game this season; they have had 93 points or more on four occasions.
Senior Brendon Gooch led the scoring parade with 22 points and four 3-pointers. Senior Tarkus Ferguson had 19 points and three 3-pointers, junior Jordan Goodwin had 18 points, junior C.J. Coldon had 11 and junior Marvin Bateman had 10.
The Crusaders sank 14 3-pointers on 35 attempts and dished out 23 assists, including six apiece by Coldon and senior Keenen Young. Althoff shot 57 percent (41-for-71).
“We’re finally getting our groove back,” said Gooch, underscoring the lofty expectations the Crusaders have for themselves. “Coach (Greg Leib) has been wanting us to share the ball more, so that’s what we’ve been doing. It showed out there with scoring 100, which was pretty exciting for the first time. It feels good to finally get it.
“We like teams that like to run, because obviously we like to run. We knew we were going to be going up and down the whole game. It played in our favor tonight.”
A victory over SLUH would give the Crusaders their second straight championship in the Chick-fil-A Classic and their second tournament title this season. They won the prestigious Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic in December as the No. 1 seed.
“We were able to hit some shots and get a little separation,” said Leib, whose team outscored McCluer 27-14 in the second quarter to build a 52-33 lead at halftime. “We got some stops defensively and Brendon and Targus rebounded real well defensively. Jordan was facing that box-and-one and created for himself with offensive rebounds in the first half.”
Junior Ryan Warren-Hogue led the Comets (5-9) with 13 points and four assists. Junior Damond Gathing bounced off the bench and dropped in 12 points. McCluer shot 47 percent (32-for-68) and was guilty of 16 turnovers.
Leib said Althoff will be challenged by SLUH.
“SLUH’s really talented,” Leib said. “They’ve got guards who can shoot and they’ve got bigs inside. It will be a good challenge and it will be fun for us. That’s why we get in a tournament like this. You don’t want to get in here and play your kid sister every night. It will be a good challenge and hopefully we can rise to it.”