In their final game of last season, the Belleville West Maroons were drilled out of the playoffs with a 25-point regional loss to the Edwardsville Tigers.
The Maroons proved to be a much tougher foe for the Tigers on Saturday at the Southwestern Conference’s “SWC at the E” event, grabbing an early lead and never letting go during a 59-53 victory over the previously unbeaten Tigers.
The victory ended Belleville West’s 12-game losing streak against Edwardsville dating back to the Maroons’ last victory on Feb. 4, 2011. West 6-foot-7 senior Tyle Dancy’s first basket Saturday gave him 1,000 points for his career.
“We’ve been preparing for this game since last March,” West coach Joe Muniz said, referring to his team’s 69-44 playoff loss to Edwardsville. “They exploited our weaknesses all season last year and our kids spent all offseason getting better.”
That was clearly evident on Saturday at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Vadalabene Center.
The Maroons used their height, size and strength to frustrate the Tigers at both ends of the court. Edwardsville (4-1) hit just four of 23 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and was 19-of-49 from the floor overall (39 percent).
“Belleville West is awful good, I don’t consider that an upset at all,” Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said after watching the Maroons (3-1) put four players in double-figure scoring. “Their big guys are very good, they’ve got a lot of athletes. I saw them play three times this week. They’re well coached, they know what they’re doing.”
Dalton Fox got the Maroons off to a strong start by scoring 10 of his 14 points in the first quarter. Sophomore E.J. Liddell had 15 points for West while sophomore Will Lanxon added 13 and Dancy contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“Dalton Fox stepped up and really set the tone, got them out of their base defense they like to run,” Muniz said. “Our guys took it to the basket hard, I thought we challenged them really well.”
Edwardsville also played good defense on Liddell, holding the talented sophomore without a field goal until he drained a 3-pointer with 4:28 remaining in the third quarter. That pushed the West lead to nine points and forced the Tigers into playing catch-up the rest of the way.
Liddell and Lanxon made sure there was no successful comeback. Liddell scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half while Lanxon — who scored only six points in the Maroons’ first three games — sank seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s a winner,” Muniz said. “There’s nothing that he’s afraid of. “
West led 19-14 after the first quarter and 30-25 at halftime.
Edwardsville got 21 points from senior guard Mark Smith and 14 points from senior forward and Iowa football recruit A.J. Epenesa. Jack Marinko and Oliver Stephen added eight points each for the Tigers, who were forced to settle for one shot on many possessions thanks to the aggressive West defense.
“I know Mark had his 21 and A.J. had his 14, but we did a good job on Oliver Stephen,” Muniz said. “Mark had to earn his points and A.J. had to earn his points. That’s a really good team over there and they’re only going to get better. I was very pleased with our defensive effort.”
Muniz feels a 54-46 season-opening loss to Farmington (Mo.) last Tuesday at the Vianney Invitational proved to be highly beneficial. They went on to win the tournament and have won all three games since then.
“We weren’t practicing really well and that may have been the best thing that happened to us,” Muniz said. “That team is pretty darned good and they took it at us. It was the best thing that happened to us.
“You had to learn your lesson the hard way and we responded pretty well the next night. We’ve played well ever since.”