DeAndre Jackson didn’t score a point, but it’s doubtful anyone played a bigger role in setting the tone for Belleville West’s 61-41 victory over Granite City on Friday.
A 5-foot-10 junior guard, Jackson drew the primary defensive responsibilities on Warriors’ high-scoring senior guard Kenny Berry and proved more than up to task.
Jackson held Berry scoreless in an opening quarter where the Maroons bolted to a 14-5 lead.
And while Berry did manage six points in the second quarter, the final four of them came while Jackson was off the floor with an ankle injury.
By halftime, the Maroons led 29-14 and it was never close after that.
“It was a big challenge,” said Jackson, of defending Berry, who came into the contest averaging 20.4 points per game. “It was just a matter of keeping the ball out of his hands, which makes it easier for my teammates to stop him.
“Coach always says, defense wins games . We were able to get some good stops on defense and transfer it over to the offensive side.”
Berry would finish with 16 points, the final 10 coming in the final quarter.
The Maroons’ defense on his running mate, junior guard Tra’ron Allen, was just as effective.
Allen’s lone points came on a 3-pointer in the opening quarter. He came into the game averaging 15.4 points per game.
“Defensively, that’s probably the best game we’ve played all season,” said Maroons coach Joe Muniz, whose team wrapped up its regular season at 13-13, 7-7 in the Southwestern Conference). “Especially DeAndre on No. 10 (Berry). He’s great player and he made him really made him work for his shots.
“We set the tone with our defense and made it tough for them to score, pretty much for three quarters. That affected them on both ends of the floor.”
Warriors coach Steve Roustio said his team just needs to move past the loss.
A free throw from Berry drew Granite City to within 23-14 with 3:30 left in the second quarter. But freshman EJ Liddell answered with a baseline jumper on the other end, putting the Maroons up 25-14. West’s lead never fell into single digits again.
“I’ll talk to the kids one more time about this one before we hop on the shuttle to head back to Granite,” said Roustio, whose team defeated West 48-42 on Dec. 8 in Granite City. “But they outplayed us in every way, shape or form. They’re a much better team than the first time we played them.
“If we dwell on this any longer than tonight, our season isn’t going to last beyond Monday night.”
The Warriors (13-14, 6-8) will meet Collinsville at 7 p.m. Monday, in a first-round contest at the Class 4A Alton Regional.
The game was decided early as it took six and half minutes for Granite City to get its first points of the game on a Torrey Deal basket.
By that time, they trailed 12-0, West’s powerful inside junior Tyler Dancy putting up eight of the points.
The Warriors would pull within seven twice in the second quarter. But the Maroons scored the final six points of the half — four from Liddell and two from Dancy — to go into the break ahead 29-14.
“We’ve got a size advantage almost every night we take the floor,” said Muniz. “And EJ and Tyler are continuing to do a good job being aggressive, complementing each other out there.
“But give credit to our guards. They’re being patient, not taking quick shots, and getting the ball inside when they’re playing like that.”
Dancy finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Liddell had 18 points go with a game-high 12 rebounds.
The victory was the third in a row for the Maroons, who will play O’Fallon at 7 p.m. Monday in a first-round game at the Class 4A East St. Louis Regional.
“This is a big win for us, considering we’re a team that was 1-7 at conference,” said Muniz. “It’s a nice accomplishment to finish .500 for the regular season, .500 in conference.
“Now, I told the kids ‘we’ve got a chance to build on that’ and it starts on Monday night against O’Fallon.”
Berry’s 16 points topped Granite City. Alex Martin contributed 15 off the bench, sinking three consecutive 3-pointers during one stretch in the third quarter.