Javon Pickett scored a game-high 26 points Wednesday, then put an exclamation mark on his performance.
The Belleville East junior came up with a steal in the waning seconds to preserve fourth-seeded Belleville East’s 63-60 victory over fifth-seeded East St. Louis in the semifinals of the Class 4A East St. Louis Regional.
The Flyers had the ball with 8.1 seconds to play when Pickett stepped in front of Kenny Roberson’s inbounds pass for Marquise Chairs and dribbled out the clock to send the Lancers (18-10) into the championship game against top-seeded Edwardsville (24-4).
The title game will be at 7 p.m. Friday. The Tigers defeated the Lancers twice during the regular season.
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“I knew my man was going to set the screen on Rico (Sylvester), so I just told him to switch,” Pickett said. “Once we switched, I saw the guard go up there and on the inbound, they threw the ball weak, so I just went after it and took control of the ball.”
I knew my man was going to set the screen on Rico (Sylvester), so I just told him to switch. Once we switched, I saw the guard go up there and on the inbound, they threw the ball weak, so I just went after it and took control of the ball.
Belleville East junior Javon Pickett on his game-saving steal
It was the first win in three games this season for East against the Flyers (12-14).
“We made some big plays,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. “We made our free throws down the stretch. We did a better job of rebounding the basketball tonight and it was a big win.”
First-year East St. Louis coach Phillip Gilbert remained in the locker room for an extended period after the game and was not available for comment.
The Lancers led the entire game until Patrick Baxter scored off the glass for East Side, giving the Flyers a 55-54 lead with 2:33 to play.
The Flyers grabbed a 58-56 lead on two free throws by Antonio Johnson with 1:35 to play, but on the Lancers’ next possession, Sylvester sank a 3-pointer from the left wing to put East ahead for good at 59-58 with 1:11 remaining.
“Isaiah (King) threw it to me,” Sylvester said. “I was about to pass it, so I pass-faked and I saw them react to it, so I just shot it and it went in. Getting a stop on defense was all I was worried about (next), and then just winning the game.”
The Flyers then turned the ball over in the frontcourt and East raced to its end. A long pass for Pickett was headed out of bounds, but Pickett saved it under the Lancers’ basket. The ball wound up in Jalen Jones’ hands for a layup that made it 61-58 with 49 seconds left.
But East still wasn’t out of the woods. Johnson made two free throws for East Side to make it 61-60 with 34 seconds left, and Jones was then called for a double-dribble.
Isaiah (King) threw it to me. I was about to pass it, so I pass-faked and I saw them react to it, so I just shot it and it went in. Getting a stop on defense was all I was worried about (next), and then just winning the game.
Rico Sylvester on his fourth-quarter 3-pointer that gave Belleville East the lead for good
Karon Randolph and Johnson followed with missed shots in the lane for the Flyers, and Pickett made two free throws to put East ahead 63-60 with 13.2 seconds left.
The Flyers called timeout with 8.1 seconds to play, but their final scoring opportunity was thwarted by Pickett’s steal.
Schrader called Sylvester’s 3-pointer “a huge shot.”
“He’s s got a lot of game experience. I’m happy for him,” Schrader said. “But I’ll be honest with you: I expect him to make shots like that. He has confidence. That’s a good shot when his feet are set. We want him shooting the basketball, and he made a big one.”
Sylvester, a junior, finished with 19 points and three 3-pointers. Sophomore Jordan Yates came up big off the bench for the Lancers with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“He did a great job,” Schrader said. “That’s a big game for a sophomore and he’s starting to gain that confidence. He’s got that ability.”
Pickett was 11-for-26 from the field as he was harassed every time he caught the ball. Sylvester finished 4-for-14 from the floor, but was 7-for-9 from the free-throw line. Overall, the Lancers were 13-for-20 from the line.
Roberson led the Flyers with 17 points. East Side received points from eight other players, with Baxter, Randolph and Johnson contributing seven apiece.
East St. Louis, which trailed 27-19 at halftime, made three 3-pointers in the third quarter to climb back into contention.
Schrader is looking forward to the rematch with Edwardsville.
“We’ve got a chance to see what we can do Friday night,” Schrader said. “We’ve very familiar with Edwardsville. We just played them (Friday) and they beat us handily (76-58 in Edwardsville). We have matchup problems with (A.J.) Epenesa. We’ll see what we can do in practice, watch some film and see what we can do to improve on that.”