Star junior EJ Liddell lifts Belleville West past Larkin

Bellville West's EJ Liddell (32) runs into the lane against Larkin Friday 03-16-18. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

PEORIA—EJ Liddell announced his arrival at the state finals in spectacular fashion, draining a pair of three-pointers and block a shot in the first two minutes of Belleville West’s 64-53 victory against Larkin in the Class 4A state semifinals at Carver Arena on Friday.

Liddell, generally considered the state’s best junior, scored 24 points and blocked seven shots. His shot blocking ability changed the game. The Royals had to think twice about shooting anywhere near the 6-6 defender.

“[After all the blocks] they started shooting more threes,” Liddell said. “That’s my job.”

The Maroons (31-2), which haven’t lost to an in-state team this season, opened the game with a 9-0 run and the third quarter with an 8-0 run.

“[Belleville West coach Joe Muniz] tells us to come out the first four minutes of the half and pound them as hard as possible,” Liddell said. That’s what we try to do.”

The Maroons have height and beef. Keith Randolph Jr., a 6-5, 242-pound junior, had 18 points and 12 rebounds.

“It’s hard enough trying to stop [Liddell],” Muniz said. “They have to use all their size and strength for that. Keith is a load too, he stepped up and played well. He had an unbelievable game.”

Larkin (24-9) entered as a heavy underdog and trailed the entire game. The Royals never gave in and eventually cut Belleville West’s lead to seven points on a Pierre Black three-pointer with 1:31 to play. Black scored 15 and was 5-for-9 from three-point range.

“We didn’t play our best game,” Muniz said. “Give Larkin credit, we got up on them and lately teams have been folding. They battled. We just made clutch plays to prevail.”

Senior guard Anthony Lynch led the Royals with 16 points and seven rebounds.

“We have a 6-10 shot blocker on our team that I’m going against [in practice] every day,” Lynch said. “But he [Liddell] effected us a little bit. I used my pull-up more. It was tough but I think I kinda got used to it.”

Shaw, Larkin’s 6-10 All-Area senior, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but fouled out midway through the third quarter.

“It was like playing against any other big,” Shaw said. “I wasn’t scared of [Liddell]. I wasn’t going to back down just because he’s ranked second in the state. He’s a good player.

“I fouled out. I felt like I failed my team. He’s just a good player.”

Belleville West will face the Evanston-Young winner in the Class 4A state title game on Saturday at 7:15.

“I can’t say enough about our guys,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “They fought and they fought and they fought. The represented the city well, they represented our program well.”

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