West stars get a standing ovation
With its win in the Class 4A state title game a year ago, the Belleville West Maroons place as one of the best teams in metro-east history was secure.
On Saturday at the Peoria Civic Center, the Maroons became one of the best in state history.
Senior forward Will Shumpert scored all 20 of his points in the second half to go along with a 24-point 10-rebound effort by senior all-stater EJ Liddell as the Maroons capped two years of basketball brilliance by beating Evanston, 71-59, for its second straight Class 4A state championship.
“This means everything,’’ said Maroons senior Keith Randolph. “I mean, we just had to pick it up coming out of the lockeroom at halftime and we did that.
“Man, this was my last basketball game and the last time I was ever going to be on the court with these guys, my brothers... There was no way we were going to lose tonight.”
Struggling early to contain Wildkits senior guard Jaheim Holden, the Maroons trailed by as many as 12-points late in the second quarter. After closing the second quarter with an 8-2 scoring run to cut the Evanston lead to 35-29 at halftime, the Maroons, behind Shumpert, took control of the game.
The 6-6 Shumpert scored on a pair of jumpers to open the second half and tallied 12 of his points in the period as West rallied to a 47-46 lead.
Liddell gave the large contingent of Maroons fans who traveled north some cause for concern when he picked up his fourth foul with six minutes remaining. But Evanston (32-5) didn’t gain any ground during the two minutes he sat on the bench. West then put the game away with a 12-2 run, highlighted by a pair of dunks by Liddell that brought the West gallery to its feet.
“It was a very emotional for everybody. In the motel this morning, both Keith and I got very emotional. We’ve been through the wars together for a long time and this was the last time we were ever going to play on the same basketball court. Not just only myself and him, but everybody on this basketball team,’’ Liddell said. “I’m just proud of these guys. We set out to repeat and that’s what we accomplished.’’
The Maroons (34-4) will be honored on Sunday with a welcome home parade and reception. The parade will begin at 2:25 p.m. at Signal Hill and travel to Belleville West High School. A reception will follow at 3 p.m. at West.
“I think our emotions might have had something to do with our start. I know Keith and Ej were emotional during the starting lineups,’’ Maroons coach Joe Muniz said.. “But Evanston came out and really hit us hard in the first quarter.
“Will (Shumpert) just had a tremendous second half. Sometimes teams put so much emphasis on on stopping EJ that they leave players unguarded. That can be a weird feeling. In the second half, we told Will that he was open and that he should cut to the basket. EJ is such an unselfish player that he’ll find the open man. That’s what happened.’’
Thanks in a large part to that unselfish play, Shumpert will get his state championship ring later this year.
“The guys told me I had to pick it up in the second half,’’ Shumpert said. “I wasn’t here last year and so I didn’t get a state championship ring, but I will this year.”
As will Muniz and the rest of the Maroons.
“It means a lot and not only for me but for people like (assistant coaches) Roger Mueller, Jesse Swift and Bill Schmidt.. People who have been a part of this basketball program for a long time,’’ an emotional Muniz said following the post game press conference.
“I told the kids earlier this year that when they won the state title last year that they’ll be remembered as a great team. But if they can repeat they’ll be remembered as one of the great teams in state history. By winning tonight, I think we accomplished that.”