It was defense that once again that paved the way to victory for the Belleville West Maroons.
The Maroons held O’Fallon scoreless for a span of 6 minutes and 10 seconds of the first quarter on Monday – a span during which they extended a 4-2 advantage to 15-2 – to set the tone for a 63-48 victory over the Panthers in a first-round game at the Class 4A East St. Louis Regional.
With their fourth consecutive win, the Maroons (14-13) advance into a regional semifinal against top-seeded Edwardsville (23-3) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Tigers, who defeated the Maroons twice en route to a 14-0 run through the Southwestern Conference, were the fifth-ranked team in the Associated Press’ final Class 4A regular-season poll.
“I thought we guarded really well during the first quarter,” said Maroons coach Joe Muniz, whose team defeated O’Fallon the fourth time. “They tried to spread us out – and to their credit they did get to the basket – but they missed some layups.
“Part of that was our size. And we were able to get the rebound and score on the other end, which was huge.”
Following a Jarvus Smith basket, which made it 4-2 just under two minutes into the game, the Maroons went on an 11-0 run to push their lead into double digits.
Tyler Dancy had four points during the surge and eight points during the quarter. The Panthers’ Lucas Hackmann drained a 3-pointer just before the buzzer ending the first quarter, ending the O’Fallon drought, making it 15-5.
“We know no game is going to be easy, especially against a Southwestern Conference team,” said Dancy, who finished with a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds. “So I wanted to come out aggressive and try and help us get out to a lead.
“Also try and work hard on defense, because coach says that’s what wins championships.”
Jack Lanxon hit a pair of 3s and Dancy added seven more points in the second quarter, as West built its lead to 30-18 by halftime.
But O’Fallon refused to fold, making some long-range 3s and connecting on some hard drives to the basket to eat into the West lead during the second half.
A pair of Deion Norfleet free throws pulled them to within single digits at 50-41 with 3:04 remaning.
Then, following a single free throw by Lanxon, Norfleet converted in transition, making it 51-43 with 2:07 to go.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, West freshman star E.J. Liddell collided just shy of midcourt with Hackmann after accepting the ball.
It was Hackmann who was called for the foul and seconds later O’Fallon coach Rick Gibson was hit with a technical.
Liddell, who was playing with four fouls, sank all four free throws and then followed with a basket, making the Maroons lead an insurmountable 57-43.
“That was a big call. I thought it was a charge and it sounded like so did most of the people in the stands,” Gibson said. “It’s just too bad we didn’t get the call, because our kids had fought hard to get back into it after such a rough start.”
Junior guard Ellijah Powell had a strong second half for West, scoring 12 of his 14 points after the break. Despite his foul trouble Liddell finished with 12 points, for the Maroons. Lanxon had 10, nine of them on first-half 3s to help West build its 12 point halftime lead
Senior Chance Armstrong topped O’Fallon with 16 points, before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Norfleet finished with 11 for the Panthers, who wrapped up their season 8-19.