Junior EJ Liddell had another monster game for Belleville West on Saturday.
This time, however, it didn’t come in a victory as the Maroons suffered an 84-74 loss to Sam Houston Math and Science in the championship game of the Washington Invitational.
Liddell, a 6-foot-7 junior who is one of the most sought-after Division I recruits in the Midwest, had 28 points, 12 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. He had 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks Friday in a 75-65 win over Montgomery Carver.
Liddell finished with 108 points, 39 rebounds and 24 blocks in four games and was selected the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
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“I’m disappointed in the outcome of the game, but pleased overall with how we played,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. “The team we played was 30-3 last year and returned all five starters. Their best player (senior Kendric Davis) is a guard going to TCU who averaged 28 points a game in the tournament. If he was 6-foot tall, he would have been the talk of the tournament going in instead of Quentin Grimes (of College Park, Texas).”
The Maroons defeated Grimes, a senior who will play at Kansas, and College Park 85-65 in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Davis, who scored 30 points against West, stands 5-9.
“Before the game (Illinois coach) Brad Underwood came up to me and said, ‘That point guard is really good,’” Muniz said. “I said, ‘I know.’ (Underwood) was recruiting him when he was at Oklahoma State. He was pretty unguardable. He’s quick, he’s tough with the ball and he made all the right plays.
“We would send people at him and he would make the right plays, and their guys would knock down shots. That was the killer for us. When we were able to get the ball out of his hands, the other players were able to knock down shots. And we just had too many turnovers on the offensive end. We could have played better. They’re a good team, but we’re a good team.”
West trailed 22-18 after one quarter and 47-33 at halftime. The Maroons closed to within 64-55 after three quarters, but Sam Houston Math and Science never lost the lead.
“We got it to within four with a couple of minutes left in the game,” Muniz said. “We just needed a couple more stops and we needed a couple of better possessions in the offensive end. They turned us over quite a bit with their pressure. That’s what we’ve got to get better at.”
Senior Malachi Smith had 16 points for the Maroons. Junior Lawrence Brazil III had 14 points and senior Keith Randolph had 12.
The tournament could provide a huge benefit for the Maroons as they prepare to begin their Southwestern Conference schedule Saturday against Edwardsville at Vadalabene Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“I saw a lot of good things from our team, but tonight obviously showed there’s a lot of areas where we can improve on,” Muniz said. “It was a good experience for our kids to play that type of competition. Hopefully, it gets us ready for the conference season starting Saturday (against Edwardsville).”