NORMAL – With a strong returning class from last season’s Class 4A state champions, it was understandable why Belleville West was regarded as the team to beat once again heading into the final week of the season.
And with the possibility of the Maroons accomplishing something that they never had before, they were able to get the job done against coach Rob Brost’s Bolingbrook team, which had hoped to assure itself of a third state trophy in the last five years.
Coach Joe Muniz’s Maroons assured themselves of consecutive trophies for the first time in their program’s history as they grabbed a 37-29 halftime lead and went up 56-42 late in the third quarter, and then kept the Raiders from getting any closer than five points back in the fourth quarter, as they claimed a 72-60 victory at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
Belleville West (32-4) advances to Friday’s Class 4A semifinal at 7:15 p.m., when it meets Curie, who edged Simeon, 56-54, in the Northwestern University Supersectional.
Maroons standout EJ Liddell led all players with 20 points and had nine rebounds. They also got big games from Jaylin Mosby (17 points), Lawrence Brazil III (14 points) and Keith Randolph Jr. (11 points). West shot 61.5 percent from the field and outrebounded the Raiders, 34-24, to help it establish control.
“Our defense was really good tonight,” Muniz said. “Bolingbrook is super quick, and our goal was to make sure that they had to play against our half-court defense. And we tried to make them shoot jump shots and not layups. One thing we did was kept them in front defensively and did a great job doing that, and our kids took great shots. When you take bad shots against Bolingbrook, they’ll turn them into layups. So we made sure that we took good shots all night long, so credit our seniors.
“Bolingbrook is a heckuva team, and they’ve ended our summer at the Morris Shootout in the championship game for the last three years. We knew what type of team we were going to face, and our kids were ready. And it helps when you have the best player in the state who is surrounded by a bunch of really good players, and they’re best of friends.”
The Raiders (23-8) were led by Kameron Leonard (13 points), Jordan Myrick (11 points), Darius Buford (nine points), Tyler Cochran (nine points), Joseph Yesufu (eight points) and Anthony Thompson (eight points).
“There’s no excuses, since we’re not that type of program or team. They’re really good,” Brost said. “We had opportunities right around the basket over and over and over, and we just didn’t convert, and EJ would block it or altered several shots. And we shot about 18 percent from 3, and that’s not a recipe to beat these guys. We have to give them all of the credit, since I thought our kids played extremely hard. We’re proud of the season we had.”