It was as if it had been drawn up in a sandlot football game.
Belleville West senior Donovan Whitney told teammate Austin Seibert "hit me, I'll be open." And Seibert, the Oklahama University-bound kicker, delivered a full-court pass to a wide-open Whitney that was as straight and true and a 40-yard field goal with the wind at his back.
Whitney finished the play with an easy layup at the buzzer to sink St. Louis University High, 65-63, at the Belleville East Chick Fil-A Classic Thursday. 0
The Junior Billikens had tied the game at the free throw line just 3.6 seconds earlier.
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"I told my teammate at the free throw line to throw it down and I was going to get it," Whitney said. "And he did and I caught the ball and it won us the game."
West had taken a 63-62 lead with five seconds left, but fouled SLU High's Brandon McKissie on the in-bound pass. He missed the first free throw, but hit the second to tie the game. Whitney made a break for it as soon as the ball fell through the bottom of the net. Seibert found him all alone.
"I thought it was great anticipation on Donovan's part and Austin's part to know the situation in the game," said West coach Joe Muniz. "Donovan, obviously, is the fastest guy on the team and, you could see it, as soon as the ball went through the net, Austin knew Donovan was going to be open. Donovan just took off and Austin made a great pass."
It was Whitney's first game-winning basket of his high school career. More importantly, it ended a five-game Maroons' losing streak that hit rock bottom with a one-point tournament loss to McCleur on Tuesday.
"I was excited and had jitters, butterflies in my stomach," Whitney said. "We were on a losing streak now we're back on track. I was focused on the clock, I thought I wasn't going to make it, but I did."
The game tight for the full 32 minutes. Demond White hit a 3-pointer and foul shot at the end of the second quarter to give West a 34-29 lead.
But the Maroons ran into foul trouble early in the third quarter, when Eugene Jones and leading-scorer Tyler Dancy were forced to sit with four fouls each.
Seibert preserved the lead with a pair of three-point baskets in the third and the Maroons took care of business at the free throw line in a very physical game. West hit 22 of 33 foul shots for the game.
But the Junior Billikens turned up the pressure defensively and closed the gap late. McKissie and David Jackson scored on a baseline drive to the goal to close the lead to one, 58-57. Then Matt Nester hit a 3-pointer to give SLU High its first lead of the half and Hunter Schmidt, who scored a team-high 21 points for the Junior Billikens, widened the lead to 62-58 with a short jumper.
Then Dancy hit a pair of free throws on a personal foul and one more on a technical foul called on the Junior Bill's bench to close the SLUH lead to one with 46 seconds left.
White scored on a layup with five seconds left to give West the lead, but the foul on the in-bound pass sent McKissie to the free throw line for SLUH and set up the final sequence.
"Bottom line is the guys on the bench did a great job keeping it close," Muniz said. "I think we had a three-point lead going into the third quarter and when you're sitting with your two best players on the bench, I thought that was a huge accomplishment for the guys.
"One thing I'm most proud of is we had a tough loss Tuesday night and the kids bounced back and had a great day of practice yesterday and focused on what we needed to get done."
Dancy led the Maroons with 22 points and White had 16. Jones added 10, Seibert had six, Whitney had five and Andrew Behrmann add four. West (6-10) next faces Normandy (3-14) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
SLU High will face Althoff in the tournament's finally Saturday at 8 p.m.
Althoff 62, Normandy 6
Nine players scored points for Althoff, four of which singularly out-scored the other team, in a 62-6 Crusader route of Normandy.
Normandy had the score tied 2-2, then didn't score again until less than two minutes left in the third quarter. Althoff, meanwhile, scored 48 more points unanswered. With Althoff's 50-point lead, officials ran the game clock through the fourth quarter without stopping it.
Tarkus Ferguson and C.J. Colden scored 12 each to lead the Crusaders, who held Normandy scoreless in the second quarter to carry a 41-2 lead into halftime. Jordan Goodwin added 10 points; Marvin Bateman had nine on three 3-pointers; Malik Easley had five; Rick Edwards, Edwyn Brown and Dante Ray each had four; and Bryson Strong added two.
Christian Binder scored four of Normandy's points, two from the free-throw line. John Prowell scored the Vikings' only other field goal.1
The Crusaders improve to 15-2. They play again at 8 p.m. Saturday against St. Louis University High School. Normandy falls to 3-14.