O’FALLON — Down 5-0 to the O’Fallon Panthers in the first two minutes on Friday, the Granite City Warriors didn’t panic.
“We huddled our guys together and we told them, ‘Let’s wake up. We’re better than this.’ And we all woke up,” Granite City senior center Tra’ Allen said.
The Warriors left O’Fallon with a victory as they cruised to a 49-30 win over the Panthers in the Southwestern Conference opener for both teams. Last year, Granite City lost both meetings to O’Fallon.
“Our practices this week were pretty intense,” Granite City coach Steve Roustio said. “Our players will tell you that. We did what we have to do to get prepared for this game. I told our guys if we can bring it defensively and rebound and keep fighting, no matter what happens at the offensive end, we’ll be in good shape and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
Granite City improved to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play. Last week, the Warriors won their second consecutive Stove Top Stuffing Tournament championship.
“Coming off of that championship, you can be happy for a moment, but you can’t be happy forever,” Allen said. “The next game, we’ve got to go handle business. It was good for the weekend to handle that business that we did and celebrate a little bit, but we had to come out for the first conference win and that’s what we did.”
The Warriors’ next game will be Tuesday against Belleville West (1-2) at Memorial Gymnasium.
“Coach always tells us that we have to play every night just like it was our last game and that’s what we’re planning to do against Belleville West,” Allen said.
O’Fallon, which dropped to 1-4 overall and 0-1 in conference play, took a 5-0 lead after Chance Armstrong scored a basket just two minutes into the first quarter.
After the Warriors called a timeout, they came back with a 16-3 run to take an 18-8 lead. Granite City led 20-9 after the first quarter and 26-11 at halftime.
The Warriors held the Panthers to just two free throws in the second quarter.
“Our defense is big,” Allen said. “Coach always tells us we have to execute and that’s what we did tonight. Coach gave us assignments and he told us who can score and who can’t score. Our scouting report was amazing thanks to coach. He told us don’t let Armstrong get on the boards and stop No. 10 (Tabari Dunlap) on the 3-point shots and that’s what we did.”
Kenny Berry, who was named the Stove Top Stuffing tournament Most Valuable Player, finished with a game-high 18 points, 10 of them were in the first half. Senior Ron Allen scored all of 10 of his points in the second half. Tra’ Allen finished with six points. He hit a free throw with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left
in the first quarter that gave the Warriors an 8-7 lead they never relinquished.
Junior Torrey Deal finished with eight points, six of them were in the first quarter. With his team trailing 5-0, Deal scored back-to-back buckets to cut O’Fallon’s lead to 5-4. Later in the period, he hit a pair of free throws to extend Granite City’s lead to 18-8.
Roustio said he was pleased with Tra’ Allen’s defensive effort.
“We’re playing a 1-3-1 defense and early in the game, I think they were slashing and getting some shots they wanted, not just on the perimeter, but splitting our defense and getting some shots,” Roustio said. “Tra’ kind of cleaned that up at the defensive end. He was just being a physical presence and getting to the defensive glass. I thought he manned up and took care of business.”
Roustio said he was thrilled that his team started its conference season with a victory. A year ago, the Warriors won just one game in league play.
“That’s always good,” Roustio said. “The thing about it is everybody knows it’s a tough league. This is an extremely tough league. But we’ve been in this position before in 2012. O’Fallon came to our place and we won by eight. A lot of people probably forgot what happened. But I haven’t. I know that was one of two victories in the conference. We’ve got to make sure that we never get satisfied with what we’ve just done because we’ve got some basketball players who can actually have a pretty special season if they keep working hard and looking forward. We just have to get ready for Belleville West. It’s good to be 1-0, but we just got to keep looking ahead.”