Jordan Yates picked up his fourth foul just over a minute into the second half Tuesday, but the Belleville East junior stuck around to enjoy the rest of the game.
It was Yates who hit the second of two free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining that, along with a late steal by teammate Javon Pickett, helped preserve the Lancers’ 58-57 Southwestern Conference victory over city rival Belleville West.
“I was kind of scared seeing how I missed the first one,” said Yates, whose only point of the night came on the game-winning free throw that gave the Lancers their seventh win in the last 11 contests against West. “The second one, my coach told me to take my breath and just shoot the free throw — and that’s what I did.”
Pickett, a University of Illinois recruit, led all scorers with 28 points with Fighting Illini coach John Groce watching from the stands. Groce was also there to see Belleville West sophomore E.J. Liddell, who finished with 25 points in the loss.
Groce spoke with both players after the game.
“Javon’s Javon,” Yates said. “He took off and he did his thing tonight. He showed up for us.”
Pickett and the Lancers were coming off back-to-back losses, including an 84-45 drubbing at the hands of Edwardsville in their previous game and an overtime defeat against East St. Louis.
“I learned from when we lost to East Side that I’ve got to be a leader,” Pickett said. “I tried to keep my teammates up, was clapping for them. That leadership that all of us were playing with was big for us.”
Pickett went off for 17 points in the second and third quarters. He went down on the court following a slam dunk with 3:38 remaining and left the game briefly, but said he was only dealing with leg cramps.
“In the second quarter my teammates, they trusted me with the shots,” Pickett said. “They kept encouraging me to shoot. The coaches kept telling me to shoot and go to the basket, so I just kept doing that, and my shots were falling from me.”
East struggled down the stretch after leading West by 12 points early in the fourth quarter, watching 6-foot-7 Maroons center Tyler Dancy tie it with 1:27 remaining. Dancy finished with 22 points and was a huge force inside throughout the second half.
Dancy and Liddell, who scored 47 of the Maroons’ 57 points, helped key the fourth-quarter comeback. The game was tied 22-22 at halftime, but a big third quarter by Picket and Rico Sylvester, a senior guard who scored seven of his nine points during that span, sent the Lancers into the final quarter up 41-36.
“I applaud our kids for coming back in the fourth (quarter) and fighting through,” West coach Joe Muniz said. “I’d like to see that energy throughout the game. I thought East did a good job bringing the energy throughout the game.”
One of West’s biggest issues Tuesday night was 16 turnovers, some caused by East and others unforced.
“When you start the fourth quarter with three turnovers in your first three possessions, and they score seven points to get (you) into an 11 or 12-point deficit .... that’s really hard to overcome against a great team like that,” Muniz said.
Liddell got hot early, scoring nine of the Maroons’ first 11 points to help them get off to a good start. Pickett answered later in the half, scoring seven of his 12 first-half points during the second quarter to help the Lancers tie things up at the half.