PEORIA—The names are immediately familiar to any basketball fan: Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, Shaun Livingston. It’s time to add EJ Liddell.
Those are the only players to lead their schools to back-to-back big school state titles over the past 20 years.
“I’m really not going to take it in until next week and see how big of a mark we made for the 618 and the city of Belleville two years in a row,” Liddell said. “And how we brought people together not just on the court but off the court. I’m really going to miss playing with these guys. It means a lot. I’m really happy but I’m sad at the same time because it is the last time.”
Liddell scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished off six assists to lead Belleville West to a 71-59 win against Evanston in the Class 4A state title game on Saturday at Carver Arena.
“There is nobody more special than him,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said. “I’m just sad it’s my last time coaching him. But now I’ll be his biggest fan.”
Belleville West beat Young in overtime last season. They took control of the game in the fourth quarter against the Wildkits (32-5). The Maroons, an uncommonly strong and bulky team, had a 42-25 rebounding advantage.
“There were too many second chance points that we gave up,” Evanston coach Mike Ellis said. “That’s a tough team to stop on the first shot let alone the second. They definitely took a toll on us inside.”
Will Shumpert scored 21 for the Maroons and Jaylin Mosby added 15, both converted several dunks in the fourth quarter.
“That’s kind of where I think the lead stretched out,” Ellis said. “We were playing with them for three and a half quarters and we just panicked a little bit. We get to the bucket we have to finish. It’s very simple, almost like a middle school basketball game. One team made their layups and one team missed theirs.”
Senior Jaheim Holden led Evanston with 20 points. Lance Jones added 15 and sophomore Louis Lesmond scored 12.
The Wildkits relied heavily on the three-pointer this season. Belleville West did a good job keeping the ball out of sharpshooter Blake Peters’ hands throughout the game. Evanston shot 4-for-24 from three-point range.
Evanston won the state title in 1968 and finished second in 1984. The Wildkits have been collecting state hardware since Ellis took over. Evanston finished third in 2008 and 2018, fourth in 2003.
“It’s more about Ryan [Bost], Lance and Jaheim than Mike Ellis,” Ellis said. “They are going to graduate probably three of the winningest basketball players ever to go through Evanston. To have those guys be a part of it for the last four years and set the tone, I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Belleville West (34-4) is the first southern school to win back-to-back titles in any class since East St. Louis Lincoln won three consecutive titles in Class AA from 1987 to 1989.
The final minute of Evanston vs. Belleville West https://t.co/I2mcyEUj1Q
— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) March 17, 2019