It was the intense atmosphere of a city rivalry basketball game for about a quarter Tuesday and then the Althoff Crusaders simply ran away from the Belleville East Lancers.
Althoff got 20 points from Jordan Goodwin and 19 from Tarkus Ferguson in a 79-60 victory over Belleville East that saw the Lancers playing without injured junior star Javon Pickett.
Althoff (19-2) flashed the kind of shut-down defense, explosive offensive and devastating transition game that has the Crusaders at No. 2 in the latest Class 3A state rankings.
“They’re one of the best teams this area’s probably seen for quite some time,” Belleville East coach Abel Schrader said. “You’ve got to do a lot of things right and hope they don’t shoot the ball very well, and you’ve certainly got to stop transition defense and rebound the basketball.”
The Lancers (15-9) got 20 points from junior guard Rick Sylvester and 17 from Jalen Jones, but it still wasn’t enough without Pickett in the lineup.
Pickett, the area scoring leader and an Illinois recruit, walked into the gym on crutches after sustaining a right knee injury Friday in the fourth quarter of the Lancers’ loss to East St. Louis.
Averaging 23.5 points per game, Pickett is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on Friday and said he hopes the injury is not serious.
“He’s still dealing with a little bit of pain in his knee,” Schrader said. “Our main concern and only concern is his health and well being, a basketball game means very little in that regard. Until he’s 100 percent, he will not play.”
Even the Crusaders felt bad about Pickett not being able to compete against them.
“He told me he didn’t want to miss the game,” Ferguson said. “He told me he didn’t want to go to the doctor because he really wanted to play against us.”
Althoff coach Greg Leib saw the kind of all-around consistency he wanted on Tuesday.
The Lancers hung close for a while and the game was tied 6-6 when the Crusaders took off on an 11-2 that included three backboard-shaking slam dunks by Goodwin in the first quarter.
A 13-2 run that included the first 11 points of the second quarter pushed Althoff’s lead to 30-13. Three-pointers by Sylvester and Drew Millas helped slow things down and the Lancers closed out the first half with a 10-4 run that cut the deficit to 34-23.
The Crusaders put together a sizzling 33-point third quarter that pushed the lead to 26. They were never challenged again.
“That’s kind of who we want to be and we’re still working to get there,” Leib said, “not letting them get easy buckets, not letting them get direct drives in there, and we did a better of that in the second half.”
Once the Crusaders cranked up their trademark transition game, the Lancers had no answer.
“The guys are such good passers,” Leib said. “They see the floor, they throw it up the floor, they hit their teammates in rhythm to make a play. A lot of times you’ve got to look like Odell Beckham out there trying to catch the ball, but these guys do a good job of that.
“They do a good job of looking for one another when they could very easily take it and get their own shot.”
Sylvester had 11 of his 20 points during the third quarter. Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit Brendon Gooch added 13 for Althoff and junior C.J. Coldon had 10.
Along with Goodwin’s dunks, Ferguson threw down a couple and added a trio of 3-pointers on “Tarkus Ferguson-Franklin Middle School Night.” A group of fans from the Belleville school where Ferguson is doing his senior service project were in attendance on Tuesday.
“It was a good experience ... they’re good friends,” Ferguson said. “They influence me to play basketball and play harder. Sometimes they would talk trash and be kind of funny when I play basketball against them. They’re good kids.”