Lancers defeat Granite City in regional quarterfinal
Granite City basketball coach Gerard Moore calls his Warriors a "carbon copy" of the Belleville East Lancers.
Neither team scores in bunches, both prefer pressure defense, both have first-year coaches and both have found themselves on the downside of close games as often as not. The Warriors, in fact, got the best of the Lancers twice during the regular season by a combined three points.
Not so in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A O'Fallon Regional on Monday night. It took a four-minute overtime, but Belleville East got an elusive win over Granite City 53-43.
Moore said he could live with a loss to a team that reminds him so much of his own.
"I've never been so proud for another team than East," said Moore. "Like us, they have played so many close games and, unfortunately, came out on the down end. It's good to see those kids fight through, win one when it really mattered and move on."
The Lancers' prize is a semifinal date with the top-seeded Belleville West Maroons, ranked No. 2 in Illinois Class 4A on The Associated Press poll. That game is back in O'Fallon at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
West swept its Southwestern Conference schedule, including two lopsided wins over the Lancers. Jordan Yates, who led East with 15 points Monday, said he's eager to play spoiler.
"I'm looking forward to playing West, actually," said Yates. "They are a great team, but we've really got nothing to lose. It would be great to be the spoiler."
Given the chance, it's a role Granite City would have embraced, too. But the Warriors were outscored 16-6 in the overtime period Monday.
The widest margin either the Warriors or Lancers held in regulation was East's six-point advantage, 31-25, just before the end of the third quarter. Granite City twice held four-point leads.
Otherwise, the lead changed hands nine times, not counting East junior Isaiah May's game-tying tip-in with 1:19 left in regulation. The Lancers had the last shot to win at the buzzer, but senior Yates' attempt from high in the key went in and out.
The Lancers won in overtime with the benefit of just two field goals. They hit on 12 of 14 from the free-throw line to open the widest lead of the night.
For the game, East shot 35 percent from the field, but was 18 of 23 on free throws.
"It's always good with a four-minute overtime when a team gets the lead off the bat. It's a real momentum-builder," said East coach Jeff Creek. "We did a good job attacking and getting to the free-throw line and sometimes we struggle with that. Lo and behold, we were able to knock down the free throws and finished the game."
Junior Kienen Waller stepped off the bench to score 11 points for East, including three 3-pointers. May contributed 10 points to the win. Junior Emmitt Gordon scored a game-high 21 points, but was the only Granite City player with more than seven points.
If Moore sounded especially gracious in the loss, it could be because of the trajectory the Warriors' season has taken.
Granite City started the season 2-11 after winning just one game all of last season. But entered Monday, the Warriors had won seven of their last 14, all in the rugged Southwestern Conference. Moore will bring back an eight-player core, including all five starters.
"I've been blessed with a great group of young men. They are resilient and tough-minded and they want to learn," he said. "Last year they didn't have a lot of success and even coming into this year we didn't expect to win many games. We just wanted to compete and, by God, they came out and did more than I could have ever expected. They really competed.
"Wins are hard to come by in this conference, but we beat Alton at Alton, East Side at East Side and beat Belleville East twice. That's big-time for us."
The Warriors' season ends at 9-19.