With the end of her high school career in sight, Belleville East senior Morgan St. James has played the Lancers last eight games with a sense of urgency as she has taken her game to a whole new level.
On Wednesday, the 6-foot St. James raised the bar for herself once again.
Using her quickness to post up and help the Lancers rule on the offensive backboards, St. James scored a game-high 25 points as Belleville East moved into the title game of the Class 4A Granite City Girls Basketball Regional with a 74-55 win over Chatham-Glenwood.
After spotting the Titans (17-14) a 2-0 lead in the opening seconds, East scored the next 16 points over the next four minutes to take control as St. James, freshman Kaylah Rainey and Chermaine King led the early surge.
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Chatham-Glenwood would get no closer than four points the remainder of the night as Belleville East continued to gel on the offensive end of the floor. Rainey added 16 points for the Lancers, who had seven players score five or more points.
But it was St. James who was the catalyst. A high honors student in the classroom who will attend and play basketball at Greenville College next year, St. James has been a different player on both ends of the floor after scoring 22 points in a 52-46 win over Althoff in January.
“This is my senior year and my high school career is coming to an end. I want to make sure I make every game count,’’ St. James said. “Tonight I wanted to come out and doi whatever I could to help my team win.’’
The win moves Belleville East into the regional title game on Friday at 7 p.m. where it will take on Quincy Notre Dame. In the other semifnal played in Quincy on Wednesday, Notre Dame defeated rival Quincy 48-40.
Highly-touted sophomore Makenzie Bray scored 23 points while senior guard Abbey Deverman added 16 for Chatham-Glenwood. But from the outset on Wednesday it was obvious that the Lancers were too quick and athletic for the Titans to handle.
And in the first quarter it didn’t take coach Amanda Kemezys’ squad long to show how athletic, as it forced six Titans turnovers in the first four minutes.
“We saw them (Chatham-Glenwood) play on Monday and knew they had some good players. But we also knew we had more speed and if we could get the speed of the game to a faster pace that it would benefit us,” Kemezys said.
“We were able to get some turnovers with our defense, which led into some transition baskets. But I also thought we did a good job in our half-court offense. We moved the basketball well and threw some great passes.’’
Rainey gave the Lancers (19-9) the lead for good when she connected on a 3-point shot, and when St. James hit two free throws and senior guard Ellisha Davis canned a 3-point jumper, East had a quick 8-2 lead.
A pair of Titans turnovers and a missed shot by Bray also led to Lancers points when Tamar Mosby hit a baseline jumper, King scored on an offensive rebound and St. James scored on a driving layup. With still just under four minutes left in the first quarter, East had a 15-2 lead and the tone of the game was set.
“We knew they (Belleville East) were very athletic and fast, and while we turned the ball over a few times, we were still getting good shots on our end. They just weren’t falling,’’ Titans coach Josh Crossland said. “And when you fall behind a team like Belleville East, they are tough to play catch up on.’’
Bray, scoring 13 of her points in the first half, helped keep the Titans in the game. But with Mosby and St. James scoring four points and both Brittney Nitz and Danielle Hawthorne hitting 3-point shots late in the half, East built a 39-28 lead.
The Titans would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the night.
While Rainey sliced and diced her way through the Titans defense, it was St. James who led the way for Belleville East.
“Ever since the Althoff game last month, Morgan (St. James) has really picked up her game,’’ Kemezys said.