UI recruiting: Liddell's play about more than points

UI recruiting: Liddell's play about more than points

NORMAL — The "six-point game" story is one Belleville West coach Joe Muniz has told several times this season to illustrate the fact that E.J. Liddell doesn't have to score for the Maroons to win.

Liddell had just six points (plus 12 rebounds and 14 blocks) the first time Belleville West played Belleville East in early December. Muniz said Liddell wanted his teammates to do the scoring, and they did in a 27-point victory against their rivals.

Tuesday night's Class 4A super-sectional at Redbird Arena was an example of what happens when both Liddell and his teammates are on at the same time.

Liddell was dominant across the board, and he had plenty of help. The 6-foot-7 junior forward and top 100 recruit led the way with 26 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in Belleville West's 81-43 win against West Aurora.

"This is the most unselfish group of guys I've ever coached," Muniz said. "They don't care who scores the ball. They don't care what they do, as long as we win. When your best player doesn't care, none of them care."

Liddell ended up with the net around his neck after the game. The super-sectional plaque was secure in his hands. But Belleville West's celebration was mostly muted.

A 38-point victory will do that. So will the fact that the Maroons have grander aspirations for their season.

The trip to Peoria is locked in. Belleville West has a date with Elgin Larkin at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals — a first for the program since 1966 when it was still Belleville Township.

Illinois coaches Brad Underwood and Jamall Walker had front row seats to see Liddell lead his team to the state tournament.

Odds are that some combination of Illini coaches will be in Peoria to see him play again and watch 2018 signee Ayo Dosunmu, who had 17 points in Morgan Park's 71-59 victory against North Lawndale in the Class 3A Joliet Super-Sectional. The Mustangs will play in the first 3A semifinal at 11:15 a.m. Friday against Marian Catholic.

"The bigger the game, the better they play, and No. 32 (Liddell) always rises to the occasion," Muniz said about his team. "This group is special. They're not afraid of the big stage. We've prepared them for this."

Belleville West jumped on West Aurora early. Liddell had five points in the first minute of the game, and the Maroons led by eight points after one quarter and 20 at halftime.

"Everybody felt good coming out," Liddell said. "We had confidence. They came out with confidence, but we broke their confidence real fast."

Tuesday's blowout wasn't the first for Belleville West this postseason. The margin of victory actually keeps getting bigger. The Maroons won their two regional games by an average of 20.5 points and took down Quincy and Moline in the sectionals by an average of 26.5 points.

"I feel like we haven't played our best game," Liddell said. "We had a lot of turnovers. Gave up buckets. Some rebounds we could have gotten. We've got two more games, so we're going to improve."

That's Muniz's expectation at this point.

"I keep telling them that," he said. "We're striving to get better and better every night. They haven't quit practicing. We're practicing as hard today as we were back in November. Maybe not as long, but they still get after it. That's why we've gotten better as the season's gone on, and the postseason I think we've taken it to a whole other level."