Belleville East coach Jeff Creek emerged from the locker room Tuesday night with an expression that would lead one to believe the Lancers had lost the game.
In truth, East defeated Althoff 69-61, but it was an ugly affair in which Creek saw the host Crusaders hang around long enough to keep things interesting.
“Just the way we take care of the basketball needs to get better,” Creek said. “We’ve been working on it all the time in practice, every day. But one thing is we were fine taking the ball up against pressure until the end, because those were pressure situations. Our kids are not used to that. But we need to get better if we’re going to make a push in the playoffs.”
Senior Jordan Yates scored 22 points for the Lancers (10-11), who topped Althoff (4-18) for the second time in 10 days. East won 69-56 on Jan. 20 in the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
Senior Jaylen Lacey added 13 points, and junior Kienen Waller had 11 points and three 3-pointers. Junior Malik Williams chipped in with nine points, and junior Isaiah May had eight.
The Lancers grabbed the lead for good in the third quarter by scoring 10 consecutive points in just under three minutes to move ahead 42-32. Yates had two baskets, one of them coming on a nice feed from Williams.
Williams had a runout during the surge, which ended with a jumper by May.
“Coach (Greg) Leib did a good job where he went small, so it made it difficult for us to guard,” Creek said of his Althoff counterpart. “But we were lucky on the other end where we got the ball in the post and were able to finish.
“But it all started in the third quarter with our defense. We only gave up two points in the first 5 1/2 or six minutes because we actually sat down and guarded.”
Leib and his team were still in the locker room more than 30 minutes after the game concluded.
The 6-foot-2 Yates was 8 of 14 from the field and 6 of 9 from the free-throw line.
“We just have to find a way to finish (better),” Yates said. “We’ve just got to pick it up. ... We’re going to do some damage in the playoffs, I still believe.”
The only negative in Yates’ performance was his fourth foul, which came with just over five minutes to play and East ahead 53-46.
The foul was called when Yates, East’s leading scorer at just under 12 points per game, elbowed Althoff sophomore Daulton Burgner on the edge of the lane. Creek, livid about the foul, pulled Yates from the game. Yates returned, but not before a stern lecture from Creek.
“I told him, ‘As a senior, you can’t pick up your fourth foul putting your forearm under somebody’s chin when we have the ball,’” Creek said. “Not only was it his fourth foul, but we lose possession. But he shouldn’t be worried that I was mad at him; he should be worried that he’s letting his team down picking up his fourth foul on something dumb like that.”
Yates acknowledged the mistake.
“We were bumping up against each other, and I kind of pushed him off,” he said, referring to Burgner. “They called it as a foul.”
Althoff rolled to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes. East tied it at 8, but the Crusaders reclaimed a 13-10 lead when senior Melvin Brock hit a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer that ended the first quarter. The game was tied at 30 at halftime.
The Crusaders, after falling behind by 10 in the third quarter, trailed just 55-50 less than three minutes into the fourth quarter. East responded with a 9-3 run to lead 64-53.
Nine players scored for Althoff, but just one reached double figures as Burgner had 10 points. Senior Ryan McDonald had nine, and freshman Ethyn Brown had eight — all free throws.