Belleville East had a prototype for success in its season opener Monday.
Senior Javon Pickett scored a game-high 25 points, junior Malachi Smith had 22 and senior Rico Sylvester chipped in with 16 as the Lancers thumped Mascoutah 76-50 in the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament. East shot 63 percent from the field (29-for-46).
“We need those guys to play big for us,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. “We shot the ball really well. We’ve got to do a better job defensively. We’ll keep working at it. First game. This team is committed to working and they’ve been really good in practice so far.”
East took control early, grabbing a 19-7 lead after one quarter and a 40-20 advantage at halftime. The gap grew to 53-24 in the third quarter.
The Lancers were 11-for-20 from beyond the arc and had eight 3-pointers in the first half. Sylvester was 5-for-6, Pickett was 4-for-9 and Smith and senior E.J. Aldridge were 1-for-2. It made for rough sledding on defense for Mascoutah.
“A lot of athletes,” Indians coach Scott Oltmann said of the Lancers. “We didn’t challenge their shots very hard. That’s something we’ve got to clean up. Sometimes you can dictate a little bit what happens if you can just get out there and challenge a little harder.
“But they can get to the basket also on you, so you’ve got to pick your poison.”
Mascoutah, which shot 43 percent (18-for-42), had four players reach double figures: junior Blake Weiss (13), seniors Glen Gibbons and Noah Brandon (12 apiece) and sophomore Malik Green (10). Junior Jaydon Stewart was the Indians’ only other scorer with three points.
Pickett, the Illinois recruit, finished 10-for-19 from the field and had a pair of dunks on runouts. He also missed a dunk when his footing wasn’t just right before the attempt. Pickett had a game-high seven rebounds and four steals.
The 6-foot-4 Pickett said “it felt good” to be back on the floor with his teammates.
“We played pretty good as a team,” he said. “I had fun going out there and playing with my teammates. I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves this first game, but there’s plenty more to learn. We can be a pretty good team on the offensive end. On the defensive end, we kind of struggled. We gave up a lot more points than we wanted to.”
East, however, did force Mascoutah into 16 turnovers and committed eight. The Lancers outrebounded the Indians 25-16.
Sylvester, in addition to his sizzling performance on 3-pointers, led the Lancers with five assists. Stewart also had five for Mascoutah, while Green had four. The 6-5 Weiss and 5-10 Gibbons had six rebounds apiece.
Smith showed promise for the Lancers as a sophomore last year. At least in the opener, he also showed off new-found confidence in going 9-for-10 from the field.
“He’s bigger and he’s (more) mature,” Schrader said of Smith, who also had three steals. “Malachi is going to be a good player. We need him to be a good player.”
East will be back in action in the tournament at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday against Springfield. Mascoutah faces another tough assignment against host Centralia at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday.
“I think the kids are ready to go back to practice (Tuesday) and work on some things and keep trying to get better,” Oltmann said. “It may not get much easier Wednesday. (Centralia) always plays well and they’re hard-nosed. You can run and hide or kind of pull your britches up and play and get after it. Hopefully, that’s what we’re going to do.”