Not once, but twice Friday, Zachary Forest came to the rescue for East St. Louis.
Forest, a 5-foot-11 junior, tied the game with a layup at the 4th-quarter buzzer, then made a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in overtime as the Flyers defeated Springfield Southeast 67-66 in the third-place game of the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.
“It was special,” Forest said. “I’ve got to carry my team. I’m a junior, but they always say I can put them on my back. Our seniors step up, but they can’t do it all by themselves. So there’s always time for somebody else to step up and do what they can do.”
Forest said he was prepared for moments like Friday.
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“I’m in the gym every day at 6 o’clock in the morning before school, shooting,” said Forest, whose winning 3-pointer came from deep in the right corner. “I felt it. My hands were warm. It was a great feeling to see my team proud and happy.”
East St. Louis, which suffered an 83-80 loss to top-seeded Althoff in the semifinals Thursday night, improved to 9-4. Sophomore Terrence Hargrove Jr. had 23 points and 12 rebounds, while 6-foot-11 senior Jeremiah Tilmon had 21 points and six rebounds.
Senior Arthur Carter grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, while Forest and senior Kerion Chairs had eight points apiece. East Side shot 58 percent (25-for-43).
“That’s a good team — well-coached, disciplined, tough to guard,” Flyers coach Phillip Gilbert said of the Spartans (10-3), who trailed 53-37 entering the fourth quarter. “They’re young, athletic and have a lot of heart. I knew it was a matter of time (before they rallied). Basketball is a game of runs. I tell my guys, ‘Stay the course. Basketball is a long game.’
“Tonight, we just came together. Zachary Forest hit a big shot.”
Southeast was in position to win the game when Anthony Fairlee made two free throws to stake the Spartans to a 61-59 lead with 5.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But Forest got the ball behind the Spartans’ defense and penetrated the lane from the left side, dropping in the tying layup just ahead of the horn.
Trevyon Williams made two free throw to give Southeast a 66-62 lead with 1:06 left in overtime. But Tilmon had a dunk to make it 66-64, and after Williams missed two free throws with 40.3 seconds left, Forest came through.
“I’m proud of him,” Gilbert said. “It shows his character. He works hard in practice. Him being a junior, this is his first real experience playing varsity. Tonight showed what he’s capable of, and he’s totally locked in. Everybody has confidence in him, from the coaching staff to the 13th man on the bench. He wanted to put the team on his back tonight.”
After Forest’s big 3-pointer, the Spartans had one last chance. One play was broken up, and after a timeout, Williams’ desperation 3-pointer was off the mark.