Belleville West junior EJ Liddell reflects on winning SWC title
There was no public acknowledgment of Belleville West clinching the Southwestern Conference championship Friday night.
But that was OK with the Maroons, who ramrodded their way to a 70-39 victory over Collinsville that gave them their first outright title in the league since 2004.
"It's amazing," said 6-foot-7 West junior EJ Liddell, who was 3 the last time the Maroons looked down on the rest of the SWC. "Now we've just got to win the regional and keep going forward. We want to go as far as possible during the year, so yeah, this is the plan."
Liddell and senior Malachi Smith scored a game-best 16 points. Juniors Jaylin Mosby (11 points), Lawrence Brazil III (11) and Keith Randolph Jr. (10) also reached double figures.
West is 23-2 overall and 12-0 in the league with two regular-season games remaining.
"This conference is really good," said Maroons coach Joe Muniz, who was in his final season as an assistant coach under Bill Schmidt in 2004. "Any time you win a conference championship, it's a great feeling. We've still got two more games to go, and we want to do our best and try to complete the season with 14 (conference) wins.
"This doesn't happen very often, so our kids are excited. Our kids are happy. This was one of the goals we had, and hopefully we can attain more goals in the future."
Collinsville (15-12, 3-9) was topped by sophomore Cawhan Smith's 13 points. Sophomore Keydrian Jones had eight and sophomore Ray'Sean Taylor had seven.
As has been their pattern of late, the Maroons took control early and coasted home. West led 13-10 after Smith scored for the Kahoks, but the Maroons reeled off the next 15 points over the next 4:04 to assume a 28-10 advantage early in the second quarter. Malachi Smith and senior Curtis Williams had back-to-back 3-pointers during the surge, which grew to 20-2 on Randolph's putback and Brazil's 3-pointer.
Collinsville's only basket during West's stretch of dominance came on a goaltending call against Liddell.
"They're really doing a nice job defensively," Kahoks coach Darin Lee said of the Maroons. "They're doing a great job with their man-to-man. They're making it hard to run offense. They turn your offense over. The other thing is they're shooting open shots well."
West, which shot 53 percent (23 of 43), sank 10 3-pointers, with Brazil and Smith connecting for three apiece. Collinsville shot 29 percent (14 of 48). Both teams had 18 turnovers. The Maroons led 40-16 at halftime and built the gap to 70-35 in the final two minutes.
The highlight play of the game came late in the first half. After a Collinsville turnover, the Maroons were on the break with Brazil dribbling toward the basket. Brazil peaked over his left shoulder and saw Liddell trailing the play, and bounced a pass off the backboard that Liddell caught and dunked in one motion.
"From a fan's perspective, it was a nice play," Muniz said. "It's something we don't teach. EJ and (Brazil) have a good chemistry together. We don't practice it. But it was a good thing; the crowd enjoyed it. The biggest thing is there's a line, and you don't want to show anybody up. We want to play the game the right way."
Liddell said he and Brazil have worked on the play.
"Me and Brazil have played together for a long time," Liddell said. "Since I started dunking, he's been throwing it off the backboard to me all the time. That's our thing. We have a connection like that. I yelled at Brazil, he turned around and I knew he was going to throw it. It was fun. It was a good pass and I finished it."