Taking a page from the basketball wizardry of LeBron James, Belleville West senior EJ Liddell turned the game around and sent chills through more than 3,000 basketball fans with one unforgettabble dunk at Highland High School Saturday.
Liddell helped spark a 12-3 Maroons scoring run midway in the fourth quarter with his crowd-wowing dunk as West broke away late for a 79-72 win over St. Louis Vashon in the marquee game at the Highland Scott Credit Union/Optimist Basketball Shootout.
With Vashon (10-2) leading 53-52 following a pair of jumpers by University of Missouri-bound Mario McKinney, West seniors Keith Randolph and Lawrence Brazil scored and Liddell added a short jumper to give West a 58-53 advantage.
On the Maroons next possession, Liddell with no place to go and guarded closely threw the ball off the backboard and in one motion went up with a two-hand dunk as the Highland High School gym erupted.
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“I did it once before this year at the Washington Tournament,’’ Liddell said, smiling after the game. “I got that one from LeBron.”
Ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A state poll, Belleville West (17-0) then went on to complete the run and survived a late scare from the lightning quick Wolverines.
“This one was actually planned because he had no place else to go,’’ West coach Joe Muniz said about Liddell’s play. “It was huge because it gave us a spark
“This is a big win for us. What can I say? These kids are winners. They just know what it takes late in games to get the job done.’’
Chosen as the player of the game, Liddell finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots and was one of five West players in double figures. Randolph added 15 points while Brazil (14 ), Jaylin Mosby (11) and Will Shumpert (10) all had big parts in the win.
“This was a huge game for us. They are the best team in Missouri and we’re the best team in Illinois,’’ Brazil said. “We wanted to show that Illinois is better.’’
The Maroons were in foul trouble for much of the night, but the reserves stepped up.
“I thought kids like Marcellus (Romious), Tommie Williams and Jaylin Mosby really stepped up tonight,’’ Muniz saiid. “They helped us weather the storm there in the third quarter.”
McKinney and Cam’Ron Fletcher paced Vashon with 17 points each.
The Vashon-West matchup was their first since the 2013-14 season when the Maroons posted a 55-31 win at the Vianney Tournament.
The Maroons were coming off a pair of hard-fought wins over Southwestern Conference rival Alton. The Maroons rallied for a 62-57 win in the title game of the Centralia Holiday Tournament a week ago then overcame foul trouble to defeat the Redbirds 61-55 in a league game on Friday.
West was ranked 17th in the USA Today Sports Super 25 Expert Rankings. Vashon entered the game ranked 25th..