First-year basketball coach Jeff Creek appreciated the effort his Belleville East Lancers gave Friday night in the final 10 minutes of their Southwestern Conference home game against Alton.
He nevertheless understood that, if they were serious about defeating the Redbirds, they had gone about it the wrong way.
A team that depends on effort and execution can’t spot an opponent a 20-point lead. And though the Lancers cut that lead by more than half with a fourth-quarter run, they fell to Alton 62-54.
“Like I told our kids, we struggle sometimes offensively and we can’t expect to make three or four baskets in a row because that’s not what we do,” said Creek. “We’ve got to get stops and work the offense. We’re not as good when we have to go quick.”
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Belleville East entered the game having won three of its last four but fell to 10-12 with the loss. Alton arrived in Belleville having lost seven of its last nine to ruin a quick start to the season.
The Redbirds rededicated themselves to a smothering half-court man-to-man defense to improve to 12-8.
“Defensively, that’s who we were for the first 10 or 11 games,” said Alton coach Eric Smith. “We went away from that for a little bit — and not by design. If we make a commitment to guard and play with energy, we have kids who can win basketball games.
“This little stretch, we just haven’t guarded people.”
Alton built its lead to 48-28 with 2:26 left in the third quarter before losing that focus once again, Smith said.
The Lancers finished the game shooting 39.2 percent from the field but prior to the fourth-quarter rally, had landed just 13 of 43 shots. Creek went to the bench in the third quarter in an attempt to light some kind of a spark.
He got it from senior Austin Hitt, whose 3-pointer put East within eight points with three minutes left in the game.
“I went with some other kids to see what they could give us,” Creek said. “They gave us energy, and some of them didn’t have any varsity experience at all.”
East finished the game shooting 39.2 percent from the field. Leading scorers Jaylen Lacey and Jordan Yates scored 19 of their combined 30 points in the second half. Both finished with 15.
It was just too little, too late for the Lancers.
“I was pleased with the effort in the last quarter and a half, but the problem is with this team we have to play with a sense of urgency like that from the start,” Creek said.
Alton got a game-high 16 points off the bench from 6-3 junior Donovan Clay, who didn’t get the start as usual. Kevin Caldwell scored 15 with three 3-pointers. Josh Rivers added 10.
East next plays next Friday at home against O’Fallon. Alton plays host to CBC on Tuesday.