The large crowd jammed into Vadalabene Center on Saturday did so with the hope of watching Belleville West’s EJ Liddell and Edwardsville’s Jack Marinko put up impressive numbers.
Instead, it saw Belleville West put on an offensive rebounding display.
Senior Malachi Smith scored 20 points and the Maroons used their size and strength to dominate in the post as they went on for an easy 67-43 win in the marquee game of the night at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The game ended after the Belleville News-Democrat’s print deadline.
West (4-1, 1-0), fresh off a second-place finish at the Washington Tournament last week, got 14 points from the 6-foot-3 Smith in the first half as it broke the game open midway in the second quarter.
But the difference Saturday night was on the backboards. With junior all-stater Liddell adding 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Smith adding 11 rebounds, West was too much for the Tigers (0-1, 2-1) to handle. West finished with 45 rebounds, including 22 on the offensive glass.
“Edwardsville is a good team, and you never know what (coach) Mike Waldo can come up with. The things we stressed and worked on all week was playing good defense and going to the offensive boards. We did that tonight,” West coach Joe Muniz said. “Malachi (Smith) had just a great game for us tonight on both ends of the floor, but we had some other kids step up for us as well.”
Smith scored 14 of his points in the first half as West took a 35-23 lead at halftime. Liddell and Keith Randoph Jr. then combined for 10 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter as West extended its advantage.
Marinko led Edwardsville with 22 points, while senior center Caleb Strohmeier added nine points. But the Tigers just couldn’t contain the Maroons inside strength.
“I thought we did some very good things out there tonight. But there were several times when we do do things right and execute well, and they would get the offensive rebounds and score. We just couldn’t keep them off the boards,” Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said.
Carrying a 34.5 average and coming off a 41-point effort in the Tigers’ 64-60 win over Soldan, Marinko tallied 16 of Edwardsville’s 23 first-half points. But it was Smith who was the difference in the first half which ended with the Maroons holding a 12-point lead.
A transfer from Belleville East, Smith scored on conventional three-point plays early in the second quarter as West took a 10-point lead.
Marinko responded with his third 3-point field goal, and Strohmeier scored on an offensive putback as Edwardsville cut the lead in half, but with Liddell scoring five of his seven first-half points and Marcellus Romious and Jaylin Mosby connecting on short-range jumpers, West ended the second period on a 12-5 run to lead 35-23 at intermission.
Alternating players on Marinko late in the second quarter and throughout the second half, West held the high-scoring guard to just six points over the final 2 1/2 quarters.
“We started Malachi on him,” Muniz said of Marinko. “Then we alternated players on him in the second half to keep a fresh player guarding him. That seemed to work.”