They have lost five in a row since a rare two-game winning streak. They are 2-10 in the Southwestern Conference and struggling to find bright spots in an otherwise bleak season.
But don’t expect the Belleville East Lancers (8-16) to go away quietly while the team hopefully lays the groundwork for a brighter future.
“It’s tough to see progress in our win-loss record this year, but we have made some strides,” said East coach Abel Schrader, whose team was seeded fifth out of five teams at the Class 4A Belleville West Regional. “We’ve gotten better as a team, we just have two main weaknesses that tend to hurt us in games against bigger teams.”
That would be troubles with defensive rebounding and unforced turnovers, plus being undersized against bigger and stronger teams. It’s a combination guaranteed to wipe the smile off the face of even the most positive-minded coach, but through it all Schrader has been pleased with his team’s attitude and effort.
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“Our kids have kept working and for the most part they still play hard,” he said. “It’s one of these seasons where you hope to learn from it and get better. We’re playing some underclass kids that will be back next year and we’ll hope to see some improvement.”
East starts two sophomores, two juniors and a senior. The team’s top two scorers — Javon Pickett (14.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game) and Rico Sylvester (10.5 ppg, 34 3-pointers) — are both sophomores.
“Rico has played with much more confidence the second half of the season,” Schrader said. “Javon has had a pretty solid season for us. We need him to continue with the confidence growth and be aggressive. He’s a talented kid with a knack to score; he needs to get a lot stronger right now and that kind of hurts him — and hurts all of our team.”
Finding consistency has been one of the biggest problems for the Lancers. There have been close calls against Edwardsville and O’Fallon and many other games where the team played well for stretches, only to fade later.
“When we play some of the top-tier schools in our conference, we feel like we’re in the game,” Schrader said, “then you look up at the scoreboard at halftime and we’re down 12 or 14 points. We’ve played some different defenses this year to try to combat the size factor and teams have made some threes.
“When you give a bigger team second chances, quite often it’s tough to beat a team like that.”
On most nights the starters are Pickett and Sylvester, juniors Jalen Jones (7.7 ppg) and Drew Millas (6.6 ppg) and 6-foot-1 senior post player senior Brady Schanuel (7.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game).
“We lack some size and we lack some physical strength at times,” Schrader said. “The unforced turnovers are something that’shurt us. It’s a tough season for all of us, coaches also. I like to see that our kids haven’t quit, they’re still doing the things that they can.”
Jones is the money man for Butler
Two of Butler’s most dramatic victories in recent seasons have come courtesy of former O’Fallon High standout Roosevelt Jones.
The latest came on a layup with 1.9 seconds remaining Feb. 16 through two defenders that gave Butler a 58-56 Big East Conference victory over Creighton.
“The play is called ‘Get it to ‘Rose’ and get out of the way,’” Butler coach Chris Holtmann told the Indianapolis Star. “That’s kind of what we drew up there. He did a great job and our other guys did a great job of spacing the floor. He went at the right time.”
The other was on a memorable running floater to help then 13th-ranked Butler beat eighth-ranked Gonzaga in a nationally televised games in January, 2013. That buzzer-beater had ESPN’s Dick Vitale shouting “Oh! Oh! I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it! Are you serious?”
Jones sat out the 2013-14 season because of a wrist injury suffered during the Bulldogs’ summer trip to Australia.
The 6-4 junior forward is the second-leading scorer for Butler (19-8), averaging 13 points per game along with 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He had a season-high 28 points Jan. 17 against Georgetown.
Okawville talent pool
Sophomore guard Noah Frederking is the latest in a long line of star players for the Okawville Rockets. Frederking and O’Fallon senior Donovan Franklin began Monday tied for the metro-east scoring lead (and ninth in the St. Louis region) at 21.8 points per game.
Schrader was an all-state player at Okawville who went on to play well at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, so he has definitely noticed Frederking’s exploits in his old hometown.
“You look at the sheer numbers he’s putting up as a sophomore and that’s very impressive,” Schrader said. “I know from talking to people he sees gimmick defenses and things like that; those are things he’s going to have to endure. They’re winning in the process, so he’s obviously a special player.”
Okawville’s big win over Mater Dei over the weekend helped create an exceedingly rare three-way tie for second place in the latest Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Boys Basketball Rankings.
Okawville (21-9) knocked off Mater Dei 57-54 behind a career-high 36-point effort by Frederking.