Panthers split week downing Belleville East, falling to Edwardsville

Deion Norfleet takes on a group of Edwardsville Tigers in Friday night's game. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

Deion Norfleet takes on a group of Edwardsville Tigers in Friday night’s game. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

The O’Fallon Township High School Boys Basketball Team returned to the hardwood after the New Year holiday, and the Blue and Gold carried some of their post-Christmas momentum into 2017. They started the new year going up against their rival, the Belleville East Lancers.

Junior Jalen Hodge poured in 20 to lead the Panthers while senior Deion Norfleet added 18 in perhaps the best offensive performance on the season for OTHS.

Ronnie Anthony, who had been nursing an injury sustained in the Centralia Holiday Tournament in December, was a late scratch after re-injuring his ankle.

University of Illinois recruit Javon Pickett scored 21 to compliment Rico Sylvester’s game-high 23, but Belleville East’s slow start and inability to get stops down the stretch doomed the Lancers and gave the Panthers a window to escape Belleville with a much-coveted 77-69 win.

“I’m really proud of how our guys competed under the circumstances tonight,” Head Coach Brian Muniz said. “Losing players to illness or injury, this is a really big win in our conference, and it goes a long way towards our big-picture goals.”

The Panthers’ second contest of the week did not make 2017 any easier for O’Fallon, dropping a road game 75-58 to archrival Edwardsville on Friday night.

Edwardsville used a big 9-0 run out of half-time to gain some separation and OTHS was never able to create the offense needed to come back against one of the Southwestern Conference’s top teams.

The Tigers are currently ranked number three in the state of Illinois with a record of 13-1.

“That’s a talented, well-coached group,” Muniz said. “They have all the pieces you’d like to see on a contending team. They’re for real.”

O’Fallon’s loss dropped the Panthers to 9-5 on the year. OTHS will travel north to Collinsville on the 27th to take on the Kahoks.