Belleville West has been waiting for a breakout performance from 6-foot-9 senior Will Presson and he rewarded the Maroons for their patience Monday.
Presson scored 14 points, 13 in the first half, and grabbed 14 rebounds as the fourth-seeded Maroons broke open a close game at halftime and ran away for a 62-39 victory over fifth-seeded Belleville East in the first round of the Class 4A Belleville West Regional.
“I was just trying to stay focused because Coach (Joe Muniz) has been on me, trying to get (me) better. We’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” said Presson, who was 5-for-7 from the field and 4-for-5 from the free-throw line. “I was just motivated and ready to go to the second round against East St. Louis.”
The Maroons (9-18), who defeated East (8-19) for the second time in three games this season, will meet top-seeded East St. Louis (19-6) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The second semifinal, at 7:30, will match No. 2 O’Fallon (17-10) against No. 3 Collinsville (18-12).
Sophomore Tyler Dancy led the Maroons with 15 points and received support from senior Eugene Jones (12 points, nine rebounds) and senior Donovan Whitney (10 points).
The Maroons outrebounded the Lancers 35-15. East had just one basket in the third quarter, that coming on a layup at the buzzer by junior Drew Millas. The Lancers were 5-for-32 from the field in the second half as they were outscored 32-15.
Presson controlled the paint with his height and long arms. When he wasn’t blocking shots, he was altering them.
“He played with a lot of energy,” Muniz said. “That’s something we have been striving to get him to do all season long. Him being out of a month with his (left-elbow) injury ... kind of put him back a little bit. Right now, he’s just kind of catching his groove. He had a great two days of practice and he followed it up with a big game. He was the difference in the game.”
Presson opened the second quarter with a dunk that put West ahead 16-14, and his rebound basket with 19 seconds to play made it 28-25 at halftime.
West took control for good by opening the third quarter with a 7-0 run to make it 35-25, and Whitney’s steal and layup made it 44-29 before Millas scored to make it 44-31.
East got within 50-39 on a basket by sophomore Javon Pickett (15 points, eight rebounds), but the Maroons scored the final 12 points of the game.
“Give credit to West. They played well,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader. “They played a very good second half and we couldn’t get anything going. We had trouble keeping them off the boards, for sure. It was just one of those games.
“We struggled from the field and they got the ball inside. They got the ball inside to Dancy and Presson. He played with as much fire in his gut as I’ve ever seen him play. He was getting offensive boards, he was playing hard.”
Presson said his injury, suffered in January, forced him to work harder. He missed eight games, including the Maroons’ 65-53 loss to East on Jan. 27.
“I think the injury helped me because I had to catch up,” he said. “That’s kind of where I was going. I knew I had to do something because I was out for a couple of games.”
West hopes Presson, and others, can turn in another big game against East Side, which defeated the Maroons 69-43 and 71-69 in the regular season.
“We’re going to play a great team, but we’re not a bad team, either,” Muniz said. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to go out there and compete as hard as we can and see where that takes us.”
Millas finished with 12 points for the Lancers, but no other East player had more than five points.