Fans of high-quality basketball were treated to two straight days of fun during the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout as they got to see Torrence Watson, of Whitfield; EJ Liddell, of Belleville West; and Francis Okoro, of Normal West, put on a show.
But the fourth annual event, which featured 10 teams ranked among the top eight in their respective states, might have benefited the most from a change in format in 2018. A two-day high school basketball showcase for the first time, the event attracted close to 5,000 fans according to O’Fallon High Assistant Athletics Director and event organizer Cory Patton.
“That’s kind of what we were hoping. We were close to 3,000 tonight (Saturday) and probably about 2,000 on Friday,” Patton said. “Of course, we probably won’t know until Monday what the official numbers were. But we are really happy with the crowds we had both nights. We were pretty much to the point of near-capacity Saturday.”
And basketball fans were treated to two days of outstanding and close games. With the exception of a Belleville West 30-point win over O’Fallon on Friday, the other six games were decided by 11 points or less.
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A one-day event that featured as many as seven games in the past, the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout was moved to two days for the first time. This change allowed Southwestern Conference foes West and O’Fallon to play their league game Friday, then come back and play again Saturday.
“Everybody, from our sponsors, to the teams, to the people responsible for setting up the event, really enjoyed the event,” Patton said. “Obviously, having two evening sessions helped our attendance and I think having those extra few hours helped increase the energy levels. We’ve already had some teams say they would like to come back. That’s great to hear.”
Patton said plans already are in the making for the 2019 shootout. He added that the event will again be a two-day event.
“Going into this we already had three or four teams without a doubt for next year and we will have the two-day format again. We’re in good shape for next year already, which everybody is. You have to stay ahead of the game,” Patton said. “It’s exciting when teams want to come back. They enjoyed themselves and that’s what we want. It’s fun for us, its fun for the teams and players and its fun for the fans.”
Belleville West’s win over Webster Groves in provided the best of both worlds for the Maroons.
Tight games that require clutch execution down the stretch are something West coach Joe Muniz hopes will help come playoff time.
Getting a victory against the top-ranked Class 5 team in Missouri was frosting on the cake, particularly after the Maroons fell short against Chaminade two weeks earlier in the championship game of the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
“For us, it’s about the postseason,” Muniz said. “I think it gets us ready. Playing Chaminade, I’m not going to lie: Our kids were disappointed we didn’t win that game. We had an opportunity; we just didn’t get it done.
“(Saturday), I told them in the fourth quarter when we were up one, ‘Let’s see how tough we are. Can we weather this storm and find a way to win this game?’ We wound up winning by (11).”
Liddell led all scorers with 33 points for West, including a 3-pointer to open the contest that was followed by a dazzling windmill dunk on a runout.
“I thought EJ, there were times he just rose up above everybody and just snatched a rebound for us,” Muniz said. “EJ’s a horse. I don’t think it bothers EJ who’s guarding him. He just goes out there and plays. He takes a beating every game. He keeps getting better and better and better.”
Liddell also led all players with 10 rebounds. He has 10 double-doubles this season and four games with at least 10 blocks.
Webster Groves relied heavily on senior star Courtney Ramey, and the 6-4 guard carried the load with 24 points and six assists. The Statesmen, however, sorely missed Saint Louis University recruit Carte’Are Gordon, a 6-8 senior who was in the midst of serving a two-week suspension.
“They’re a good team without Carte’Are,” Muniz said. “But losing him hurt for a variety of reasons. No. 1, they lost their size and another guy on the boards, another guy EJ or Keith (Randolph Jr.) had to guard, a big body. That’s a hard thing. I don’t wish that (suspension) upon anybody — to have to go through that and deal with that. But they’re still a good team.”