PEKIN — In a matter of minutes, the dream was over for the Moline Maroons on Friday night.
Following a pretty three-point play by Drew Wiemers, Moline tied No. 2-rated Belleville West at 20 in the final minute of the first half. Then, BW got 3-pointers from EJ Liddell and Lawrence Brazil to make it a 26-20 halftime lead, and the game began to spiral out of control.
A 19-2 start to the second half for Belleville West quickly made the game a rout that finished in a 67-47 decision at the Class 4A Pekin Sectional title game.
"They had not been making 3s the entire first half, then they make those two in a row, and that really hurt," Moline coach Sean Taylor said. "We were not playing great, but well enough in the first half. We just had to find a way to keep it close."
Instead, BW got the court spread and turned Moline over four times in the early minutes of the third quarter to get the big run going.
"I thought Sean had a great game plan coming in," BW coach Joe Muniz said. "You would like to think we would get one of those big runs, but I wasn't so sure because of the way Moline played in that first half.
"No question, those two 3s at the end of the first half were really big. At halftime, I told the guys there was no way we could shoot any worse than we did in the first half. We shot it much better in the second half."
That is an understatement. BW made 16 of their 23 shots after intermission. Brazil was 5-of-6 and ended with 19 points. Liddell, the 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois, was dominant with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
"Those two late 3s kind of took away everything we did in the first half," Wiemers said. "Then, we got off to such a bad start in the second half. They played a style we have not seen all season, and they just got to us. I don't think we wore down; they were just better."
Once Belleville West opened the lead to double figures early in the third quarter, Taylor knew his team was in trouble.
"What we did in the first half was always have two or three guys around (Liddell), and he couldn't get to the boards," Taylor said. "We had to play with that same efficiency in the second half, and we didn't make enough shots.
"Once they got ahead, it was going to be very hard to chase them around. We just don't have the people to chase a team like that around the floor."
Jeff McInnis scored 10 points in the second half and finished with 12. Wiemers finished with nine points, two rebounds, two steals and two assists.
"I tried to attack (Liddell) and make things happen," Wiemers said. "The frustrating part is my 3-point shooting (0-7). It was open, and I couldn't make one all night."
Win or lose, Taylor left the gym feeling good about his team.
"I told them 'Thanks for letting me coach you' at the end of game," Taylor said. "They wanted to get better, and they did. They listened to me, and they worked hard. They were a great group to coach."