Boys Basketball

Liddell the difference-maker again as West trips East Side for regional title

West's EJ Liddell talks 34-point performance in regional win over East St. Louis

EJ Liddell scored 34 points Friday as the Belleville IL West High School Maroons defeated the East St. Louis IL Senior High School Flyers 67-60 in an IHSA Class 4A regional high school boys basketball game played in Belleville, IL in southern Illi
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EJ Liddell scored 34 points Friday as the Belleville IL West High School Maroons defeated the East St. Louis IL Senior High School Flyers 67-60 in an IHSA Class 4A regional high school boys basketball game played in Belleville, IL in southern Illi

Sophomore EJ Liddell scored 34 points Friday as third-seeded Belleville West outlasted second-seeded East St. Louis 67-60 in the championship game of the Class 4A Belleville Regional.

There were eight lead changes in the fourth quarter.

“This is what we’ve been working all year for,” said the 6-foot-7 Liddell, who has scored 77 points in his last two games. “Our seniors, we didn’t want them to go home tonight. I just had to do my part and everybody else did their part.”

Senior Tyler Dancy added 16 points and senior Dalton Fox had 13, including a clutch 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter, as the Maroons (20-8) won their second regional under coach Joe Muniz and their first since 2012. It’s their first 20-win season since 2004.

West will play Edwardsville (28-1) in the semifinals of the Ottawa Sectional at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Collinsville High School. The Tigers’ only loss of the season was a 59-53 decision against the Maroons on Dec. 3 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Since that loss, Edwardsville has won 24 in a row.

Muniz is looking forward to the game, but was more interested Friday in celebrating with his players after they survived a staunch challenge from the Flyers (18-8).

“Sweet. Really sweet,” said Muniz, in his 13th season. “We’ve got a lot of tough kids. These seniors have been through a lot these four years. We got things turned around a little bit last year, and this year, they bought in. They’re unselfish kids; they want to win. I couldn’t be any more proud of them.”

The 6-7 Dancy has been a starter all four seasons for the Maroons.

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Dancy said. “Being a senior and winning this on the greatest team I’ve ever played on, it’s a wonderful feeling.

“We just didn’t panic when they made their runs. That’s what East St. Louis does. Coach told us not to get panicked and we worked on late-game situations like that. We dug deep.”

East St. Louis players somberly filed out of their locker room about 20 minutes after the defeat, followed by second-year coach Phillip Gilbert.

“They just played basketball and made big shots,” Gilbert said of the Maroons, who had dropped both previous games against East Side. “They stepped up when they needed to and they were victorious.”

The Flyers never found an answer for Liddell, who dominated at both ends of the court and even had a block on a dunk attempt by 6-11 senior Jeremiah Tilmon.

“We were trying to get out to (Liddell) and counter what he does,” Gilbert said. “But big-time players step up. I don’t care how old you are. He’s 15, a sophomore, but when you average (38.5) points a game in the regional, it means you’re on your way.”

Liddell was 12 of 21 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line

Key moments

The Flyers led 56-55 when Tilmon scored underneath with 3:36 to play. Fox followed with his eighth 3-pointer of the season, a shot out of the right corner that bounced high off the iron and fell through to give the Maroons a 58-56 lead with 3:17 left.

“Whenever I shoot, I always think it’s going in,” the 6-5 Fox said. “I was feeling good; I was having a good game. I felt like shooting it was a good idea and I was confident. I’m so happy right now. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling for the past 20 minutes.”

It was the final lead change of the fourth quarter. East Side tied it on a basket by sophomore Terrence Hargrove Jr., but West took the lead for good on a basket by Liddell with 2:02 left that made it 60-58. The Maroons never trailed again.

Liddell’s go-ahead basket came after a spinning move in the lane. Hargrove Jr. went down on the play with an ankle injury and never returned.

Without Hargrove, the Flyers fell apart. Dancy made a free throw to make it 61-58, and the Flyers followed with a costly turnover that led to two free throws by Liddell that made it 63-58. Dancy made two more free throws to make it 65-58 with 21.4 seconds remaining.

“(Hargrove) is an excellent rebounder and we missed his athleticism,” said Gilbert, whose team also lost senior Arthur Carter to fouls with 1:02 to play.

East Side’s only points in the final two minutes came on an inconsequential dunk by Tilmon with 15 seconds left that made it 65-60.

Key performers

Tilmon led the Flyers with 19 points. Hargrove had 13 and Carter had 11. Senior Kerion Chairs, who had 15 points in the semifinals against Althoff, had just three.

West, which trailed 15-5 in the first quarter and 27-20 in the second quarter, committed just seven turnovers and making 16 of its 19 free throws.

“We were in cement, or quicksand,” Muniz said of the slow start. “We weren’t moving. We weren’t blocking out. I got on the kids pretty hard and they responded.” 

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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