Belleville West coach Joe Muniz reflects on semifinal victory
Make no mistake. There's nothing wrong with Belleville West's killer instinct.
The Maroons on Tuesday surged to a 27-7 lead after one quarter and a 41-11 advantage at halftime en route to a 66-33 victory over Quincy in the semifinals of the Class 4A Pekin Sectional at Alton High.
Junior EJ Liddell had 20 points, nine rebounds and five blocks to lead the Maroons (28-2), who will play Moline (20-7) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday in Pekin. Moline defeated Rock Island 55-43 in the other semifinal.
"Really, we just guarded. That's what we've been practicing all week," said the 6-foot-7 Liddell, whose big performance came in the presence of Missouri coach and East St. Louis native Cuonzo Martin. "They had a lot of 3-point shooters, and our guys went out there and guarded the perimeter. We've played a lot of good teams to prepare for the postseason. That helps us."
Senior Malachi Smith had 17 points and six rebounds and junior Keith Randolph Jr. had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Maroons. Senior Aaron Shoot led the Blue Devils (23-5) with seven points. Quincy scored seven or fewer points in three of the first four quarters.
"That's a hell of a team," Quincy coach Andy Douglas said. "They do a lot well. You watch them on film and that's one thing. But to see them in person, they're a fun team to watch. They got on us defensively. They pressured us ... and were solid all-around. All five guys were swarming. That made it difficult for us to get anything done."
Quincy shot 29 percent (13 of 45) from the field and committed 20 turnovers. West shot 56 percent (28 of 50) and had 13 turnovers. The Maroons, who won their 11th straight, crushed Quincy on the boards 35-20.
"That's a good team," Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. "They're not 23-5 for nothing. We wanted to jump on them from the start. Our kids, there's nothing I can say about them other than the fact they executed the game plan, both offensively and defensively, to perfection. The biggest thing we did was we really guarded them."
All the drama was removed in the first quarter when West turned a 6-4 lead into a 25-4 bulge with a 19-0 run in less than three minutes. Smith had nine points during the flurry.
"We wanted to come out and show them we're the best team in the state," Smith said. "We played hard. It started with our defense."
Liddell, who had four dunks, poured salt on the Blue Devils' wound when he made a 3-pointer in the final five seconds of the half to give the Maroons their 30-point lead at the break.
It was more of the same in the second half. The Maroons stretched their lead to a game-high 44 points (58-14) when Smith scored underneath with 50 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Liddell observed Martin, who has led Missouri to a 20-11 record entering the Southeastern Conference Tournament in St. Louis, watching the game from the corner of the gym. The Tigers already have offered Liddell a scholarship.
"Everybody's equal right now," Liddell said. "I'm not setting anybody higher than anybody else. I'm just enjoying it right now."
For the Maroons, more fun could be around the corner.
"I don't want to say we were perfect, because we're far from it," Muniz said. "I told the guy in here today, 'We've still got a long way to go.' We've got to get better."
Try telling that to Quincy.
"The only thing you can do is tell your guys to fight," Douglas said. "We've had a heck of a season. ... Their physicality was another level than what we've seen. When you've got five guys out there as strong as they are, they're getting over the top. I couldn't yell to the refs to bail us out. We couldn't match their physicality."