The O’Fallon boys basketball team rolled out of the Centralia Holiday Tournament with three wins, a trophy and reassurance that it could hold its own at the top of a wide-open Southwestern Conference.
The Panthers proved as much on the road at Belleville East on Tuesday. With one of their best offensive games of the season, the Panthers defeated the Lancers 77-69.
O’Fallon placed fifth in Centralia, losing only to eventual tournament champion Marist Catholic (Chicago). It carried the momentum into conference play with four players scoring in double figures.
“That was the best our offense has played all year because actually, in the Centralia Tournament, our offense was not very good,” said senior Deion Norfleet, who counted the first 3-pointer of the season among his 18 points. “We’ve been moving the ball and doing things we haven’t done all season that are working for us.”
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O’Fallon was without junior Burke Watts, who was out sick, and junior Ronnie Anthony, who reinjured an ankle he turned in Centralia.
But both Norfleet and senior Daron Thomas, who had 11 points, scored season highs, and Alex Orr matched his previous high with a 12-point performance.
Junior Jalen Hodge led O’Fallon with 20 points.
“That was a big win, especially with one of our starters going down right at the beginning of the game,” said O’Fallon first-year coach Brian Muniz. “Guys just stepped up and played really well and played hard. It’s as proud as I have been of a team and its effort, certainly since I’ve been a head coach.”
Belleville East also won three games and the consolation bracket championship at the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Tournament, but continues to frustrate head coach Abel Schrader with inconsistent play.
The Lancers wasted a game-high 23 points by senior Rico Sylvester and 21 by University of Illinois recruit Javon Pickett.
“I don’t know what to expect. We can play with everybody, and we can get beat by anybody,” Schrader said. “O’Fallon took it to us, and we played on our heals the entire game. It’s tough to guard anybody like that.”
The Panthers (9-4) will get a big conference test at Edwardsville (12-1) on Friday. The Tigers are ranked No. 3 on the Associated Press Illinois poll this week. The Lancers (8-5) will be back at Collinsville for a 7:30 p.m. game against the Kahoks (6-7).
O’Fallon widened a half-time advantage to 56-43 with a 12-3 run in the third quarter sparked by Norfleet’s 3-pointer and a pair of baseline drives by Daron Thomas.
“It would have been hard for us to come back on a team like this,” Muniz said. “Getting out to an early lead was huge.”
The Lancers made it a game in the fourth quarter, thanks largely to Sylvester, who drained three of his five 3-point baskets in the second half. But it was Jordan Yates’ layup that pulled East within four points at 69-65 with less than two minutes left.
The Panthers shot just 3 for 7 from the free-throw line in the remaining time, but got baskets from Norfleet to close the game out on an 8-4 rally.
Yates and junior Malachi Smith each scored eight for Belleville East, while junior Jaylen Lacey contributed seven.
O’Fallon also got points from Ryan Fulton, Javus Smith, Steven Sharp and Anthony.