Freshman E.J. Liddell grew up a little more Tuesday.
The 6-foot-6 Liddell scored 26 of his 32 points in the second half and overtime as Belleville West nipped Belleville East 69-68 in a wild Southwestern Conference game.
Liddell’s putback with 2.9 seconds to play in overtime put the Maroons ahead by one, and Lancers junior Rico Sylvester followed with a shot from halfcourt that clanged off the back iron as time expired and West fans rushed the floor.
“That was, just like, crazy. That’s the first time I’ve experienced this,” said Liddell, who finished 13-for-20 from the floor, including two 3-pointers. “Coach (Joe) Muniz kept us in the game. That’s the one who picked the tempo up. I think he’s the player of the game, for real.”
Never miss a local story.
Muniz, reveling in the excitement of the victory, made a beeline for the West students and applauded their enthusiasm. He was still overjoyed minutes later, and with good reason considering the Maroons trailed 34-20 at halftime and also squandered a 58-52 lead in the final 21.5 seconds of regulation.
That was, just like, crazy. That’s the first time I’ve experienced this. Coach (Joe) Muniz kept us in the game. That’s the one who picked the tempo up. I think he’s the player of the game, for real.
Belleville West freshman E.J. Liddell
“(Liddell) made some big-time plays,” said Muniz, whose team lost at East 72-60 on Dec. 15 when Lancers junior Javon Pickett scored 32 points. “I thought we guarded really well the second half. We tried to limit Pickett. Elijah Powell did a good job (on Pickett) the second half and Dalton Fox did a great job when he was in there.
“The key was they didn’t get a whole lot of transition buckets. That was huge for us. We got refocused at halftime and talked about the rules of what we needed to do against the zone. Shots started falling and we were playing more aggressive. It’s a good win.”
Pickett, headed for Illinois, finished with 16 points on 7-for-18 shooting. Sylvester led the Lancers with 17 points and senior Drew Millas had 14 points.
West, which has won five of its last seven, improved to 8-10 overall and 3-5 in the SWC. East fell to 14-6 and 5-3 with just its second loss in the last 10 games.
Lancers coach Abel Schrader was disappointed by the setback but credited the Maroons for overcoming a miserable second quarter in which East outscored them 17-3.
West was paralyzed by the Lancers’ zone in the quarter and was 1-for-4 from the field. But the Maroons banged the ball inside to Liddell and the 6-7 Dancy in the second half and the results were dramatic. Dancy, a junior, finished with 12 points and Powell, a junior had 11.
“They kicked our butts. They played harder than us,” Schrader said. “They probably had 20 offensive rebounds. They out-toughed us. We didn’t play well. We came out in the second half and turned it over twice for no reason. Give credit to West for coming back.
“Let’s face it: Our guard play is very solid. When we shoot it well and we move the basketball well and we’re getting out in transition, we’re a tough matchup. But they’re bigger than us, and it was tough for us to keep them off the boards the entire game. They took it to us.”
There were many moments when the game hung in the balance.
West, which steamed back into the game by outscoring East 19-6 in the third quarter, led 58-52 after junior DeAndre Jackson made two free throws with 21.5 seconds remaining in regulation. But Sylvester was fouled by Jackson on a 3-pointer, then made his first two free throws before missing his third attempt.
The ball went out of bounds off the Maroons, and Millas made West pay with a 3-pointer that cut West’s lead to 58-57 with nine seconds left. East senior Jalen Jones fouled Jackson, and Jackson made two free throws to put the Maroons ahead 60-57 with 6.3 seconds left.
West was indecisive, however, on defense. Instead of fouling immediately to put East at the line for a one-and-one, Dancy fouled Sylvester as Sylvester attempted a 3-pointer. Sylvester made all three free throws with 2.1 seconds left, tying the game at 60 and forcing overtime.
The Maroons grabbed a 66-61 lead with 1:39 left in overtime as Liddell and Dancy combined for six points. But West again couldn’t pull away as Pickett scored along the baseline off a turnover and Millas hit another 3-pointer to make it 66-66 with 58 seconds to play.
Dancy made one of two free throws to give the Maroons a 67-66 lead with 41.9 econds left, but Pickett scored for the Lancers to make it 68-67 with 31 seconds remaining.
West attacked with 10 seconds left. Jackson’s missed shot was rebounded by Dancy, who also missed. Liddell grabbed the loose ball and scored what proved to be the game-winner.
“I wanted the ball,” Liddell said. “We had to have somebody step up to win this game. I thought I was the one to do that.”
The only negative for Liddell was missing three opportunities to finish three-point plays: two in the fourth quarter, one in overtime. Muniz wasn’t concerned.
“He’ll knock those down,” Muniz said. “He’s still got three more years of high-school basketball.”
By the numbers
West finished 26-for-50 (52 percent) from the field, including 18-for-32 (56 percent) in the second half. The Maroons were 12-for-20 from the line and had 18 turnovers.
The Lancers were 25-for-54 (46 percent) from the field and 8-for-14 from the line. East was charged with 12 turnovers.