Collierville (Tenn.) head basketball coach Jonathan Mooneyham followed the conventional wisdom that says if you want to stop Belleville West, you have to stop four-star junior EJ Liddell and the rest of the Maroons’ big men.
But conventional wisdom doesn’t account for a deep Belleville West backcourt that makes the Maroons as dangerous on the perimeter as they are in the paint.
Led by junior Lawrence Brazil III, West guards shot a combined 21 of 29 from the field in a dominating 81-43 win over Collierville in the first round of the 75th annual Centralia Holiday Tournament on Thursday.
“We were going to try to protect the paint, and we were keyed on No. 11 (Malachi Smith), 22 (Keith Randolph) and 32 (Liddell),” Mooneyham said. “Then their other guys started hitting shots. What do you do then? Pick your poison.
“Even playing at our best, we were going to have a hard time stopping them the way they shoot the ball.”
The Maroons move on to a second-round game against 10-2 Confluence Academy, a first-round winner over Cahokia.
Brazil has had a hot hand all season long, averaging 10.3 points per game on a 47.4 field goal percentage. He was a perfect 6 of 6, including three timely 3-pointers against Collierville on Thursday.
Depth in the backcourt is something the Maroons haven’t had in recent years, but it is making a difference as they play their way to the top of the Southwestern Conference.
“In the past, teams have been able to put two or three guys on the post and dare us to shoot it. Some games we’d make it, and some games we wouldn’t,” said West head coach Joe Muniz. “This year our guys can make them, and if they don’t, we’ve got guys on the bench.”
Senior Zion Woodie, in fact, stepped off the bench in the first quarter to drain a 3-pointer in the midst of a 21-2 Maroons’ run. That rally turned a four-point Collierville advantage into a 28-13 Belleville West lead early in the second quarter.
It’s not like the Maroons’ big men didn’t get theirs, too. Liddell scored a game-high 17 with six rebounds and two blocked shots. Smith — a 6-3, 195-pound guard — scored 17 as well, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
They also led the Maroons with 10 combined assists.
The Maroons offense ran Thursday on its ability to score from anywhere on the floor. It’s a balance Muniz expects.
“At practice I was missing a lot of shots, and EJ was like ‘keep shooting, keep shooting.’ That’s what I was able to do,” Brazil said. “I like getting the ball as much as possible, and if I’m open, I’ll shoot it. But Coach wants us to rebound and look for an open player. He wants us to be unselfish.”
West opened a 46-20 lead by halftime. Nine players scored for the Maroons, who held their largest lead of the night, 66-27, just before the end of the third quarter.
As a team, the Maroons shot 29 of 41 (70.7 percent) from the field, including 9 of 11 from 3-point range. They held Collierville to 33 percent shooting while outrebounding the Dragons 27-21.