Donovan Clay goes up for a layup against Belleville West's Will Shumpert in a Southwestern Conference game at Belleville West High School on Friday night.

Get The Latest News!

Don't miss our top stories and need-to-know news everyday in your inbox.

ALTON - If they’re on their game, the Alton Redbirds are indeed a team that will give anybody a run for their money.

They’ve now done that to the No. 1-ranked team in the state twice in one week.

Unfortunately for the Redbirds, the Belleville West Maroons were able to escape both times.

After getting past Alton 62-57 in the finals of the Centralia Holiday Tournament seven days ago, the Maroons outlasted the Redbirds 61-55 at Belleville West High School in a Southwestern Conference game on Friday night.

The Redbirds fall to 9-7 and 3-2 in the SWC.

“We have competed and played our tails off all year,” Alton head coach Eric Smith said. “I only can really think of one game where we kind of questioned our effort and our toughness. We’ve showed that we’ve got a good basketball team. We’re not bad.”

Belleville West is ranked as high as No. 9 in the country according to MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 Rankings. The reigning Class 4A state champions remain undefeated at 16-0 and improve their conference record to 5-0. Additionally, the Maroons are now 31 games unbeaten and have won 23 in a row in the SWC dating back to a 56-52 loss to East St. Louis on February 10, 2017.

“Credit goes to Alton. I thought their kids played with tremendous heart tonight — tremendous courage. I don’t think we played real smart,” Belleville West head coach Joe Muniz said. Every time we would get a little bit of a lead, they would make a run and make a big play. Luckily, we were able to make a few more plays at the end than they did.”

6-foot-7 senior guard Donovan Clay had a game-high 21 points for the Redbirds. Andrew Jones followed with 11 while Moory Woods added nine and Ky’Lun Rivers chipped in eight points all in the fourth quarter.

The Redbirds were without star shooting guard Malik Smith who is averaging over 15 points per game. Coach Smith wouldn’t elaborate on the reason for Smith’s absence but did confirm he’ll not be playing today against Maine South at the Taylorville Shootout at 4:30 p.m.

“It was way different without [Malik], but my team came to play. They played their butt off. I was glad to see that,” Clay said. “It’s definitely a start [for] where we want to be at in the future. We’ll see them again and hopefully; we’ll take the W.”

Ohio State commit and 2018 Illinois Mr. Basketball E.J. Liddell was limited to nine points while battling foul trouble throughout the game. That is the second time in 16 games this season he’s been held to single-digits.

Article continues after sponsor message

A total of 15 charging violations were whistled in the game, and nine of them were against West. Liddell was saddled with three fouls in the first half and ultimately fouled out of the game with 5.1 seconds to go. He was saddled with three charging calls.

“We continue to preach and talk to our kids that they got to make a play that’s going to win a basketball game and whether that’s making a three or taking a charge or getting a rebound,” Smith said. “Whether that happens in the first quarter or the fourth quarter it doesn’t matter. Those are plays that’ll help us win a basketball game.”

Clay was tasked with guarding Liddell on defense, which he relished as the two stand out seniors go a long way back.

“It’s always competitive when I go up against him. I’ve known him my whole life,” Clay said about Liddell. “I got taller, and I’m still a guard, but it’s always fun [going against Liddell].”

Lawrence Brazil III led the Maroons with 19 points. 6-foot-5 forward and Illinois football commit Keith Randolph finished with 14 points in his first game since after missing all of the Centralia Tournament.

“Give Eric and his kid's credit,” Muniz said of the Redbirds. “They’ve got the guts to step up there and take the charge. That’s my fault. I just haven’t done a good enough job coaching our kids on how to jump stop. We’ve talked about it all week long.”

Both teams were tied at 10-10 through the first quarter and then West led 28-25 at halftime.

After being held scoreless in the first half, Liddell awakened. He scored six points early in the third quarter as the Maroons went on a 14-2 run and led by as many as 14 points at 41-27.

Alton got the deficit back to single digits by the fourth quarter trailing 45-38. Two triples by Rivers and another by Clay cut the Maroons lead to 47-46. West built their lead back up to 53-49, but another three-pointer, this time by Jones made it 53-52.

The Maroons led 55-54 with under a minute to go until Jaylin Mosby was fouled and sank both free throws. Alton wouldn’t score another basket as the West were able to knock down three more foul shots to close out the game.

“I think the biggest difference is they’ve played in a lot of big games over the last couple of years, and they’re tested,” Eric Smith said. “And our kids haven’t necessarily played in those types of games yet.”

Chris Rhodes also contributed to this story.

More like this:

Jan 10, 2024 - Allen Leads With 19 Points, Tigers Hit Big Free Throws Down The Stretch To Take 55-53 Win Over Belleville West

Feb 24, 2024 - Maroons Hit Three Straight Buzzer Beaters - Belleville West Stuns Collinsville in Double OT Regional Final Thriller

Jan 13, 2024 - Lady Redbirds Rout Belleville West In Highland Tourney Opening Round

May 22, 2024 - Three-Run Third Gives Belleville West 4-2 Win Over Alton In Class 4A Regional Semifinal, Redbirds End Season 10-14  

Feb 22, 2024 - Thomas’ Basket With 1.8 Seconds Left Gives Quincy 48-47 Win Over Alton In Class 4A Regional Semifinal