By Anthony Jones
The only force to stop East St. Louis from winning a basketball sectional over the past four years has been pandemic cancellations.
Triad will hope to join that list on Mar. 3 in Centralia in the sectional final.
The Flyers present a familiar face for the Knights, having met in each of the last two postseasons. Triad lost last year in a 73-39 final and 65-39 in 2019 after leading 26-24 at halftime.
“I think it’s going to be an extremely physical game. They’re obviously very large too. I think we have to get off to a good start and it’s nothing new to us,” Coach Jeff Guidry previewed their third postseason game against the Flyers in four years.
To reach the sectional final, the Knights knocked off Mt. Vernon 51-34 earlier in the week. Sophomore Drew Winslow led all scorers with 20 points in the Mar. 1 matchup.
Many of Winslow’s points came in the opening quarter, which he finished with eight. Triad led by as many as seven in the opening period, but finished with a 16-10 advantage.
The early lead was the type of start Coach Guidry hoped for after slow starts earlier in their postseason.
“Last week, we struggled big time to hit shots. I told the guys before the game, ‘Confidence is the most dangerous thing in basketball’ and if you come out early with confidence, you take away the other team’s confidence,” he remarked.
The physicality of the contest ramped up in the second quarter, as the scoreboard slowly moved to 20-14. Winslow hit a subsequent layup, sparking an avalanche of Triad points.
Aydin Hitt and McGrady Noyes followed the sophomore’s bucket with made shots, pushing the Knights ahead 27-14. In the waning seconds of the half, AJ Mills added to the avalanche of points with a triple to earn a 30-14 lead at the break.
The first basket out of the half went to none other than Winslow, matching Mt. Vernon’s total of 14 points. A 6-6 tie throughout the third period served to keep Triad’s lead at 36-20 with eight minutes to play.
Mt. Vernon would trail by as many as 19 and as few as 10 in the fourth, but ultimately lost 51-34.
Mills finished second in scoring for the victors with 9 points, including four late free throws that helped solidify the Knight’s lead that had dwindled down to 10 points. Hitt finished with 8 points and Noyes scored 6 more to go with a team leading seven rebounds.