With their biggest player out of the game with five fouls Tuesday, the East St. Louis Flyers turned to their smallest.
Senior Kerion Chairs scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers, as the second-seeded Flyers rallied past sixth-seeded Althoff 60-58 in the semifinals of the Class 4A Belleville East Regional.
East Side (18-7), which trailed 37-25 in the third quarter and 52-43 in the fourth quarter, will play No. 3 Belleville West or No. 5 Belleville East in the title game at 7 p.m. Friday. West and East meet in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“It was kind of special,” the 5-foot-10 Chairs said of his fast finish. “I couldn’t get myself going, but when I saw that first shot (of the fourth quarter) go in, it was like a release and I was able to play.”
Chairs had made just one of seven shots from the field entering the fourth quarter. He closed by making five of his final seven.
Chairs came through with 6-10 senior Jeremiah Tilmon on the bench. Tilmon picked up his fourth foul with 2:14 to play in the third quarter. He returned midway through the fourth quarter, but promptly fouled out with 3:36 left. The Illinois recruit had just six points.
“Despite Tilmon being out, the guys stuck with the game plan and they stepped up,” Flyers coach Phillip Gilbert said, lauding the work of Chairs. “He’s tough. He’s very underrated. He has a big heart and plays hard. ... Fortunately, tonight he made big plays when it mattered.”
Althoff (18-11) had a chance to tie the game in the waning moments. After East Side junior Shamon Jefferson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 6.4 seconds to play, Crusaders senior CJ Coldon gathered the rebound and drove the length of the floor, but his running layup in a congested lane was off the mark and time expired.
“CJ’s been making that play for three years for us,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “We feel good about him taking it. That’s what we wanted to do. That’s why we put him on the bottom for the rebound. We were fortunate enough to get the miss; it just didn’t drop. Those things happen. I would do it again any other time in the same situation.”
Althoff led by nine when senior Dante Ray scored on a rebound basket with 6:55 to play. The Flyers responded with a 10-1 run that started with a basket and a 3-pointer by Chairs.s
Senior Edwyn Brown hit a free throw to put Althoff ahead 53-48, but East Side senior Arthur Carter had a putback and a three-point play to knot the score at 53 with 4:04 to play.
Althoff senior Marvin Bateman scored to make it 55-53, but Chairs hit another basket and followed it with his third 3-pointer of the quarter to put the Flyers ahead 58-55 with 2:02 left.
“He made some plays,” Leib said of Chairs. “He doesn’t make those plays with Tilmon in there. That’s why you get a good ballclub. Kids stepped up when the big guy went out. Coach Gilbert had his kids ready and had them believing. They did a nice job fighting through it.”
After Coldon missed two free throws, Carter forced a bad shot that Althoff rebounded. Brown was fouled and made one free throw, and after a Flyers turnover, Brown made two free throws to deadlock the game at 58 with 1:12 remaining.
Ester missed two free throws at the 1:01 mark, and after a turnover by Coldon, Estes drove the lane to put the Flyers ahead 60-58.
Brown was fouled 30 feet away from the basket by Carter with 9.3 seconds left, Carter’s fifth foul. Brown, however, missed both free throws to set up the final fury.
Coldon led Althoff with 15 points. Bateman and Brown had 14 apiece and Ray had 10.
Estes finished with 14 points for East Side, which also got 13 from Carter and 10 from Terrence Hargrove Jr.
Tilmon made 3 of 6 shots from the field. Two of his fouls were in scramble situations. His fourth came when he dived for a loose ball at midcourt. Gilbert opted to leave him in the game after he picked up his third with 5:30 to play in the third quarter.
“You always want your best player to figure it out,” Gilbert said. “That what we as a staff were trying to do.”