Belleville East’s Javon Pickett and Rico Sylvester are sophomores, but they’re playing like veterans.
Pickett scored 21 points and Sylvester had 20 on Tuesday as the host Lancers pulled away in the fourth quarter and defeated Belleville West 65-53 in a Southwestern Conference game.
East’s win avenged a 45-41 loss to the Maroons on Dec. 16 at West.
“It felt real good,” said the 6-foot-4 Pickett. “The first game, we had a lead and we let them come back. But this time, we were able to keep the lead that we had and play strong. We got some shutouts at the end of the game. That helped us.”
It was the fourth win in five games for the resurgent Lancers (8-11, 2-6), who outscored West 24-13 in the fourth quarter and were surrounded on the court by their enthusiastic fans after the final buzzer sounded.
East coach Abel Schrader was pleased with the victory, but he’s mindful of the Lancers’ upcoming schedule that includes games against East St. Louis, Althoff, Alton and O’Fallon.
“They’re four of the best teams in the area,” Schrader said. “Let’s see what type of progress we’ve made when we play them.”
Pickett and Sylvester have made plenty.
“Javon’s been pretty steady for us. He really has,” Schrader said. “They’re both playing with a high amount of confidence right now, and you can see it on the court. It helps us. They’ve obviously improved. It’s a confidence thing. They’re a big part of what we try to do. And tonight we had other guys step up and make some plays, too.”
Senior Brady Schanuel and junior Jalen Jones had nine points apiece.
East led 21-20 at halftime, but the game opened up in the third and fourth quarters when the teams combined for 14 of their 15 3-pointers.
The Maroons (7-11, 2-6) made all eight of their 3s, on 15 attempts, in the second half, while the Lancers made six of their seven 3-pointers, on eight attempts, after halftime.
None of East’s 3-pointers were any bigger than the ones made on back-to-back possessions by Sylvester and Jones in the fourth quarter. After the Maroons got within 51-48 on a 3-pointer by senior Demond White, Sylvester and Jones struck to make it 57-48, and Schanuel followed with a three-point play to make it 60-48.
West, which got 21 points from senior Eugene Jones, was no closer than nine points in the final two minutes.
“The last time we played them, they hit us with a run in the third quarter and got their lead up to 11 or 12, then we kind of blitzed them in the fourth,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. “Tonight, they blitzed us. They made 3s tonight and they had good looks.
“East played very, very well. They played with a lot of energy. I knew they would. Personally, I think they’ve been playing very well over the last four or five games, and they’re tough to beat on their home floor. ... We were a half-step slow defensively.”
Muniz is impressed with how far Pickett and Sylvester have come in the last month-plus. The duo combined to go 16-for-26 from the field.
“The first time we played them, they played like sophomores,” Muniz said. “They’re not sophomores now. They’re juniors. The juniors are seniors. The seniors are on their way to college. Our guys need to do the same thing. Those two guys played with a lot of confidence tonight. They’re going to be good players in the conference for the next two years.”
“We’ve stepped it up a lot,” said Pickett, who had three 3-pointers. “We’re working hard during practice. That’s what did it. Coach is staying on us every day, telling us we have to work hard, things like that.”
Schrader, understandably disappointed after losing to West in December, called the rematch “a huge win for us.”
“It’s feeling good about ourselves,” he said. “The second half, I thought we played pretty darn good. I’m proud of the effort the kids gave.”