Boys Basketball

East St. Louis still a force, despite uneven start

Despite a 66-55 loss to Edwardsville on Tuesday, East St. Louis figures to be a force down the stretch behind Jeremiah Tilmon, Terrence Hargrove Jr., Arthur Carter and others.

The Flyers (9-5, 4-1) placed third in the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic last week, losing only to Althoff in the semifinals.

East Side’s first game after the tournament didn’t go as hoped Tuesday, as Edwardsville defeated the Flyers 66-55 despite senior AJ Epenesa being out of the Tigers’ lineup.

The Flyers are ranked 13th in the Class 4A state poll, and coach Phillip Gilbert remains optimistic they will be ready to make a postseason run in March.

Tilmon, a 6-foot-11 senior who has signed with Illinois, controls the paint. Carter, a 6-2 senior, succeeds in the lane against bigger opponents.

Senior guards Kerion Chairs and Reyondous Estes are top defenders and regular contributors on offense, and junior Zachary Forest provides energy and 3-point shooting off the bench.

Forest had the game-tying layup and the game-winning 3-pointer in the Flyers’ 67-66 victory over Springfield Southeast in the third-place game at Collinsville.

“I tell them a lot, ‘We have to be resilient and know we have to bounce back in certain situations,’” said Gilbert, who is in his second season. “You win some, you lose some. You’ve just got to keep fighting. We’ve got to find a way to get it done together. We’re right there. We could possibly do some special things.”

Tilmon averages 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. Hargrove averages 13.3 points and 10.1 rebounds in his first season as a varsity starter.

“When Jeremiah and I are at practice, I love playing against him because I can learn something from him and I just like playing against him,” Hargrove said. “It makes me better as a player, so when we play against other big people, I can play well against them.”

East St. Louis will get a rematch with Althoff at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Highland Optimist Shootout, a game Gilbert has referred to as “part two.”

Smith’s offer

Illinois coach John Groce saw Edwardsville senior guard Mark Smith play in person for the first time Friday when the Tigers defeated Althoff 83-75 to win the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.

Smith had another stellar game with 35 points, three 3-pointers, eight rebounds and eight assists. On Sunday, the Illini offered Smith their final scholarship for 2017, and Smith also has picked up recent offers from Kansas State, Northwestern and DePaul.

After he scored 26 points in Edwardsville’s 66-55 win over East Side, Smith wasn’t sure how long it would take for him to consider the opportunity.

“I don’t know. It’s my state school,” he said with a smile. “I’ll discuss it with my family. I’m just blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity.”

Smith is averaging 21.9 points, eight rebounds and 9.5 assists for the 12-1 Tigers. Edwardsville was third in the latest Class 4A state rankings.

100 candles

Belleville West will celebrate 100 years of basketball Friday in its Southwestern Conference game against the Alton Redbirds.

All former Maroons cheerleaders and cheerleading coaches will be recognized after the junior-varsity game. All former coaches, players, managers and statisticians will be recognized at halftime of the varsity game, which will tip off about 7:45 p.m. The previous four West coaches are expected to attend: Jerry Turner, Dave Shannahan, Roger Mueller and Bill Schmidt.

There will be a reception for everyone after the game in the commons.

Father McGivney notches first win

After three years on the underclass level and a rough stretch of defeats in its first varsity season, Father McGivney, a Catholic high school located in Glen Carbon near Edwardsville, finally collected its first varsity win in program history Dec. 29 in the seventh-place game at the Vandalia Holiday Tournament. The Griffins (1-13) knocked off Ramsey 47-33 to end a 12-game losing streak.

“It was a huge for us with the way the season had gone so far,” said Father McGivney coach Rich Beyers. “There had been a lot of lopsided losses, so it was nice to be able to turn the page a little bit.”

The Griffins jumped out to an 18-2 lead after the first quarter and never looked back, getting 15 points from Dan Jones, 14 from Logan Shumate and 12 from Alex Loeffler.

“We jumped on them right away,” Beyers said. “Then you’re trying to teach them a whole new thing, how to play with a lead. It was nice because we got some new teaching moments in there that day.”

West’s best in Centralia

Belleville West’s Tyler Dancy and E.J. Liddell were both named to the all-tournament team in Centralia last week.

Dancy, a senior, averaged 12 points and eight rebounds in the Maroons’ four tournament games, including a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double in a win over Thornton Fractional-North. Liddell average 14.5 points and 5.5 boards for West and had a tournament-best 18 points against Centralia in the semifinal game.

The pair had eight blocked shots apiece, which ranked among tournament leaders.

“When Tyler and E.J. are on, there is just no stopping them,” said West coach Joe Muniz, following the win over TF-N, in which the two combined for 32 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocks.

West finished second in the tournament, falling to Marist Catholic (Chicago) in the championship game.

Others on the all-tournament team are Tim Finke, of Champaign Central; Javon Williams and Dawson Berry, of Centralia; Shomari Tillett, of Hyde Park; Brandon McCombs, of Jacksonville; Jadacus Dixon, of TF-N; and Justin Brown, of Marist.

Marist’s Morgan Taylor was the tournament’s most valuable player. 

Curiously absent

The Marist Catholic RedHawks did a little big of everything in winning the Centralia Tournament with the sharp-shooting of MVP Morgan Taylor and presence in the paint contributed by 6-8 center Justin Brown.

The RedHawks won their first Centralia championship since 1991, defeating Jacksonville, O’Fallon, Champaign Central and Belleville West along the way.

“They have an absolute complete team,” O’Fallon coach Brian Muniz said.

Yet even at 15-0, Marist failed to garner any votes in the Associated Press Illinois Class 4A boys basketball poll. Apparently, pollsters don’t think much of the East Suburban Catholic Conference or the RedHawks’ schedule, which, before arriving in Centralia, included only one team with a winning record.

Polls aren’t everything, though, says Marist coach Gene Nolan.

“The only time we think about what other people think of us is at the end of the year, and it’s in terms of what we have done,” he said. “Seasons are judged on the way out, not on the way in or during the body of the year. So we just try to win the day, every day. We just want to keep working, keep developing and keep getting better.”

BND Boys Basketball Rankings

Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Sunday.

Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)





Edwardsville (7)






East St. Louis



Belleville West





Also receiving votes: Belleville East (8-5), Alton (7-4), Cahokia (7-6), Central (11-3), Collinsville (6-8), Columbia (9-5), Mater Dei (7-4)

Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)





Okawville (7)














Also receiving votes: Metro-East Lutheran (4-10), Madison (6-8), Roxana (7-7)