Photos from the Belleville West-Alton sectional semifinal
When the Belleville West Maroons lost to the Alton Redbirds a little over two weeks ago it cost them a chance of at least a share of the Southwestern Conference crown.
But it may have saved their season.
Seniors Keith Randolph and EJ Liddell combined for 17 third quarter points as part of a 19-9 West scoring run and the defending Class 4A state champion Maroons went on for a 59-49 win over Alton on Tuesday at the East Moline Sectional.
The game was played before a near capacity crowd of 2,600 fans at Edwardsville High School.
Trailing the Redbirds (21-11) by as many as nine points early in the second quarter, West rallied within 27-25 at halftime. A 3-point basket by Alton junior Andrew Jones to start the third quarter gave Alton a five-point lead, but that would be the last bright note of the night as Liddell and Randolph, a University of Illinois football recruit, took over the game.
With Randolph scoring eight of his 12 points and Liddell adding seven points, two blocks and three rebounds in a five-minute spurt, the Maroons took a 44-36 lead. Alton would get no closer than five points the rest of the night.
“The first two times we played them (Alton) there were excuses. The last time when they beat us at their place there were no excuses. They flat out beat us,’’ West coach Joe Muniz said. “But that loss was the turning point of our season. A wake-up for us. Since that time, its been a different team. We’ve been focused.’’
The win sends the Maroons into the sectional title game at 7 p.m. Friday at East Moline High School against Danville. Ranked fourth in the final Class 4A state poll, Danville advanced on Tuesday with a 68-57 win over Pekin.
West (30-4), which defeated Alton twice during the regular season, trailed 18-13 after one quarter. That lead ballooned to 22-13 in the opening seconds of the second quarter. Alton senior Donovan Clay, scoring all of his 14 points, led the way for Alton.
But a 3-point basket by Lawrence Brazil and a pair of baskets by Randolph keyed the Maroons’ comeback.
“We were down by nine? I guess we were. We called timeout and EJ helped keep us in it,’’ Randolph said. “Brazil hit a big 3-point jumper and we were able to close it to two points at half. That was big.”
An offensive rebound and basket by Randolph closed the lead to a single point early in the third quarter and when Liddell, who finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots, hit an NBA range 3-point jumper at the six-minute mark, the Maroons (30-4) had a 32-30 lead.
The defending state champions would not trail again. Limiting the 6-foot-7 Clay to a single shot, West held Alton to just 22 second half points.
”We played him (Clay) a little tighter in the second half,’’ Muniz said. “He (Clay) is a great player and Eric Smith is a great coach. For him to be able to hold this team together after what they went through this year was just amazing.
“Keith (Randolph) was just phenomonal tonight. He attacked and just went to the basket very well. EJ (Liddell) was amazing as well. That’s why he is the best player in the state.’’
Randolph added 12 points while Brazil and Jaylin Mosby added 10 points each for West. Liddell, battling a head cold, said he was pleased at how his team responded against the athletic Redbirds.
“We responded well from adversity tonight,’’ Liddell said. “Keith played great tonight. You know he was a basketball player before he was a football player.’’