O’Fallon senior Jayla Stubblefield did her part to make sure first-year Panthers coach Nick Knolhoff’s Southwestern Conference debut Thursday was a successful one.
Stubblefield made two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining as the undefeated Panthers held off Belleville East 60-59 before a large crowd at Belleville East High School.
Fresh off an impressive 4-0 effort at the O’Fallon Tournament last week, the Panthers (5-0, 1-0) trailed 59-58 following a pair of free throws by Lancers junior Nyah Ford with 23.3 seconds remaining. Following an exchange of possessions, O’Fallon sophomore Makayla Best was fouled with 8.8 seconds left.
Best missed the front end of the 1-and-1, but using her quickness, Stubblefield got around a Lancers player, grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled attempting the putback. The Panthers guard calmly made both free throws to give her team the lead.
“It was exactly the type of game I thought it would be. I thought it would be close throughout and that it would possible dome down to the last possession,” Knolhoff said. “I was surprised at how Belleville East rebounded against us. But we got the biggest rebound of the night there in the end.”
East (2-4, 1-1) still had a chance to win the game. Ford was fouled with three seconds left but missed the first free throw in the bonus, and when the Panthers grabbed the rebound, Knolhoff had his first SWC win as the Panthers coach. Knolhoff coached the past two years at Althoff.
Belleville East junior Bryce Dowell led all scorers with 20 points, and junior B’Aunce Carter added 12. The Lancers were without standout guard Kaylah Rainey, who suffered a sprained ankle Tuesday against Alton. Lancers coach Amanda Kemezys said there is no timetable on Rainey’s return.
With its star guard out of the lineup, East still gave a good effort.
“We had a couple of chances there in the end. It just didn’t happen. I was very happy with our effort tonight. I thought we played very hard,” Kemezys said. “We just played a little out of control at times, and we need to work on our decision-making. We took a couple of ill-advised shots.”
Junior Ashley Schloer led O’Fallon with 19 points.
“Ashley played very well tonight,” Knolhoff said. “She is usually our shooter, but she’s learning to take the ball to the basket a little better. Being left-handed, she is hard to defend.
“I’m very pleased with how we’ve played in these first five games. We only had two weeks to get ready, and there are still some things that we haven’t put in yet.”