It was a play for the ages, one in which those lucky enough to be among the capacity crowd of more than 3,000 high school basketball fans in attendance for the Highland Scott Credit Union/Optimist Basketball Shootout on Saturday will remember for a long time.
Flipping the ball off the glass backboard and throwing through the basket all in one split second fluid motion, Belleville West senior EJ Liddell gave the Maroons the momentum for good as they went on for a 79-72 win in a much-anticipated showdown with St. Louis Vashon.
The dunk, which could be seen on twitter accounts and was still a top topic on social media on Monday, was the highlight of the night for Liddell whose 26 points, 12 rebounds and six blockss helped the Maroons to the win.
But it wasn’t the only reason the defending Class 4A state champion Maroons improved to 17-0 for the season and ran their winning streak to 32 straight games. On a team made up of winners, Liddell was one of five players in double figures and all seven players who competed against the Wolverines (10-2) made contributions to the victory.
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“These kids, no matter what happens, are winners. And what they’ve been able to do from this point forward has been remarkable, especially when considering the schedule that we have played,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. “What do I say about Liddell, (Keith), Randolph, (Lawrence) Brazil, and what they’ve done the last two years, Liddell, (Marcellus) Romious and Jalylin (Mosby), the last three years. .. it’s ridiculous.
“I am just truly blessed to be able to coach these kids.”
Randolph, just rounding back into playing condition after missing two weeks and five games because of the flu, added 15 points while Brazil (14 ), Jaylin Mosby (11) and Will Shumpert (10) all had big parts in the win.
“Keith is just getting back and Lawrence, Jaylin, Will and Marcellus, they all came up big tonight,’’ Liddell said.. “On the dunk, I did it at the Washington (Tournament) and I do it at practice all the time.
“I was at the free throw line and I pump faked. Nobody cut and (Vashon’s) Cameron (Fletcher) went in front of me. I just decided to throw it off the backboard. I was going to catch it because I do it in practice all the time.’’
Highland girls, Nashville impressive
Top-ranked in the Class 2A state poll, the Nashville Hornets will probably drop back after losing to Briarcrest (Tenn.) in the title game of the Mater Dei Holiday Tournament and then losing a 31-29 River-to-River Conference game to Pinckneyville on Friday, but coach Wayne Harre was nothing but happy after his team beat Effingham 57-48 at Highland on Saturday.
McKendree University recruit Bryce Bultman led the Hornets with 21 points as Nashville improved to 17-2 for the season.
“Briarcrest took it to us pretty good and then last night (Friday), we lost on a last second 3-pointer at the buzzer to Pinckneyville. After having something like that happen and then coming back 14 hours later and playing, you are never sure how the kids are going to react,” Harre said. “I think maybe we were a little tired, but I thought we came out with a strong effort.”
Also pleased was Highland first year girls coach Clint Hamilton, whose team improved to 15-4 with a 47-42 win over East St. Louis team on Saturday in the first game of the Highland Shootout.
The Bulldogs, led by a combined 26 points from Megan Kronk and Bella LaPorta, broke away late over the Flyerettes.
Hamilton, who took over for longtime coach Mike Arbuthnot, inherited an experienced team with one of the top point guards in the metro-east in junior Ellie Brown and one of the top athletes in LaPorta.
“I think we knew we had a chance to be pretty good with the girls we had coming back this season. The girls have been outstanding in learning our system,’’ Hamilton said. “Today (Saturday), we knew East St. Louis was athletic and quick.
“It got a little sloppy near the end, but I was pleased at how we played and competed.’’
A great event
Director of the Highland Scott Credit Union/Optimist Basketball Shootout, Matt Powers was couldn’t have been happier with the 2019 event, which featured many of the top high school players in the Midwest.
While Liddell (Ohio State) and Vashon’s Mario McKinney (Missouri) have made their college choices, talented juniors such as Luke Kasubke (Chaminade), Caleb Love (CBC) and Jalen Johnson (Milwaukee Nicolet) showcased their talents in front of several major NCAA Division I schools and conferences.
Among those in attendence were St. Louis Billikens coach Travis Ford and Missouri Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin (Missouri). Coaches from Ohio State and Louisville, were also on hand.
Powers said the 2019 event was one of the best ever.