The East St. Louis Flyers never could, what interim coach Hank Harris called ‘put away,’ the Belleville West Maroons on Friday in their Southwestern Conference game.
But Marquis Chairs made sure the Flyers left Belleville with their perfect Southwestern Conference record intact.
Chairs made two free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining, which proved to be the difference as the Flyers survived with a 71-69 victory.
With Flyers guard Karon Randolph making the second of consecutivc jumpers, East St. Louis (16-6, 11-0 SWC) led 68-60 with a minutes and 20 seconds left in the game.
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But the Maroons, as they did all night, refused to go away.
Making his first appearance of the night, sophomore Logan Betz calmly drained a pair of 3-point field goals to bring West back. Betz’ second 3 tying the game at 69 with over 10 seconds remaining.
Hurrying the ball up the court, Chairs was fouled driving the lane with 4.4 seconds left and calmly made both shots to give his team the lead.
Following a timeout, the Maroons’ Tyler Dancy had his pass tipped near midcourt where senior guard Demond White picked the ball up.
White quickly penetrated and shot a 12-foot floater from just inside the free-throw line. The ball hit the rim and bounced out as White collasped to the floor in disbleief.
“Tyler (Dancy) had a tough pass to make, but when the ball got tipped Demond had presence enough to take it the basket. In that situation, all you want is an opporunity to tie or win the game. We had that,’’ a dejected but still upbeat West coach Joe Muniz said. “It’s disappointing to lose a game like this. But I’m proud of my team. They followed the game plan to perfection. That’s the way I know Belleville West can play.’’
Randolph led East St. Louis with 19 points, while Antony Johnson and Tyrone Riley added 10 points each. The Flyers, now just a win away from clinching at least a share of the SWC title, seemed to be on the verge of blowing the Maroons off their home court for much of the first 12 minutes.
The Flyers led 9-2 in the first period then used a 17-0 run late in the first period and in the opening four minutes of the second to grab a 27-14 lead.
But West responded.
Getting nine points from White, the Maroons outscored East St. Louis 17-2 over the final 3:53 of the half, to grab a 31-29 lead.
The inability to put their opponents away is something Harris has seen twice in his four games as the Flyers coach.
“Yes, it was a game of runs. But we didn’t help ourselves any. We turned the ball over way too much (22 turovers) and I bet we missed at least six or seven layups,’’ Harris said. “I’m glad that we made the plays in the end to win the game, but we’ve got to do a better job of putting teams away when we have the chance.’’
East St. Louis would take leads of 11 and eight points in the second half, but led by White and the Maroons inside trio of Dancy, 6-foot-9 Will Presson and Eugene Jones, West never gave in.
Presson led all scorers with 19 points and combined with Dancy (14 points) and Jones (13 points) to more than hold their own on the backboards.
“East St. Louis is a very athletic and talented team and they are going to have scoring runs against you. Our game plan was to not let those runs get too big on us. I thought we did a great job of maintaining our poise when they made a run at us,’’ Muniz said. “Also I thought Tyler, Will and Eugene did a good job on the boards.’’