The East S.t. Louis Flyers didn’t have many free throw opportunities Friday in a long-awaited showdown with Belleville West. But senior Terrance Hargrove Jr. cashed them in with the game on the line.
A first team all-state selection a year ago, Hargrove made two free throws with 12.5 seconds remaining as the Flyers took control of the Southwestern Confrence race with a 57-56 win before a capacity crowd of over 2,300 at Belleville West High School.
With the Flyers (22-5) trailing by a point, Hargrove, an athletic 6-7 forward headed to St. Louis University next season, got the ball at the top of the key and was fouled taking it to the basket.
Following a timeout by the Maroons, Hargrove calmly made both free trows to give his team the lead. The free throw attempts were just the third and fourth of the night for the Flyers.
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“i just have the ultimate confidence in my shots. Coach (Mark) Chambers just told me to go knock them down and that’s what I did.,’’ said Hargrove, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds. “Over the last year I’ve shot over 100 free throws a day. In that situation, I just try to close out the crowd, look at the rim and shoot my shots. They went in.’’
Trying to avoid a second straight SWC loss after dropping a close decision to Collinsville on Tuesday, the defending Class 4A state champion Maroons (23-3) had two chances to win the game in the final 12 seconds. But West committed turnovers on both possessions.
When the final buzzer sounded, Flyers fans began to celebrate while the Maroons crowd walked away stunned that the top-ranked Class 4A team suddenly had a two-game losing streak.
“I just told the guys that we needed to hold our composure,’’ Chambers said. “We were down one when we got the ball. i called an (isolation) play for Terrance. We had to get the ball in his hands.
“He took the ball to the rim, got fouled and made both free throws. This is a huge win for us. We’re trying to create culture in our program. It’s just a huge win.’’
The win gives East St. Louis a 9-1 record in the SWC whlle West falls to 7-2.
Sparked by the return of its all-stater, EJ Liddell, who sat out the loss to Collinsville after spraining his left ankle in a win over Chicago Simeon on Saturday, the Maroons played well early.
With the 6-7 Liddell scoring six points, the Maroons led 14-8 after one quarter. But sparked by Hargrove and 6-7 senior forward Richard Robinson, who combined for 16 second quarter points, the Flyers used a 17-2 run to lead by as many as nine points.
West cut its deficit to 27-22 at halftime on a late jumper by Keith Randolph and a 3-point basket by Lawrence Brazil to close out the period.
But even then it was evident the Maroons were struggling.
“We’re in a slump right now,’’ West coach Joe Muniz said. “We aren’t executing the way we need to in close games. The first half we were playing too fast and we took a number of very poor shots just like we did the other night against Collinsville. Down the stretch we had chances that we just didn’t convert.’’
West, which committed only nine fouls compared to 22 for the Flyers, stayed close in the third quarter as Liddell scored nine of his 18 points.
Robinson added 15 for East St. Louis.