A gym full of Belleville West alumni celebrated a century of township basketball by watching two charter members of the Southwestern Conference square off on the Maroons’ floor Friday night.
Sophomore E.J. Liddell met their nostalgia with a hot hand from the field, scoring a season-best 27 points against Alton in a dominating 71-46 win.
“He struggled a little bit shooting in practice this week and got frustrated with himself,” West coach Joe Muniz said of Liddell. “It was big that he hit some shots early because he was able to get into the flow and take his game to another level. That’s the kind of player E.J. can be.”
Liddell finished with nine rebounds and blocked eight shots. He and 6-foot-8 senior Tyler Dancy once again dominated inside, forcing Alton to attempt more shots from beyond the 3-point arc than in front of it.
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The Redbirds shot just 16 for 42 from the field, counting the six-straight baskets they scored late in the fourth quarter.
“That’s how I got all my rebounds. They were hitting some shots in the second half, but we were boxing out and getting all the rebounds on their missed shots,” Liddell said. “When they came inside, I did my thing and blocked them.”
The Maroons’ 1,446th all-time win — and their ninth of the season — was as crucial to an unforgiving Southwestern Conference race as it was for posterity. Alton (7-5, 4-3) entered the game tied with East St. Louis at the top of the conference standings.
Muniz didn’t want the Maroons (9-4, 4-2) falling a game behind.
“We’ve already had one hiccup at home when we lost to East,” Muniz said. “That’s the thing about this conference is you have to protect your home floor. You’ve got to steal a couple on the road and win at home. This was no doubt a huge win for us.”
West took command early with a 19-5 run that stretched from the midway points of the first and second quarters.
Liddell had 21 points by the time the Maroons had opened a 36-18 halftime lead. They shot 14 for 25 in the first two quarters.
Alton got three 3-pointers in the half from junior guard Kevin Caldwell, who finished with 23, but was shut out on two-point shots until the 4:46 mark of the second quarter.
“We made them have to hit tough shots with guys in their face or maybe step out a little further away from the basket,” said Muniz. “I was pleased with our defense.”
The outcome became academic when West opened the third quarter on a 13-3 run, sparked by a pair of putback buckets from Dancy and DeAndre Jackson’s two layups in transition.
On the night, West shot 54 percent including five 3-pointers.
The Maroons next play Collinsville at home, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13. Alton, which has dropped three of its last four, is at East St. Louis on Tuesday.