Photo by Theo Tate
Granite City head coach Steve Roustio talks to his team before the fourth quarter against Belleville East on Feb. 20 inside Memorial Gym at GCHS.
The Granite City Warriors will not finish with another winless Southwestern Conference season this winter.
The Warriors celebrated their first league victory of the season after knocking off the Belleville East Lancers 64-60 on Friday at Memorial Gymnasium. Granite City lost its first 11 conference games before Friday.
“These kids have persevered,” Granite City coach Steve Roustio said.
Now, the Warriors are setting their sights on celebrating their Senior Night with another conference victory on Friday. Granite City plays the Belleville West Maroons at its regular season finale at Memorial Gymnasium.
Seniors Jalan Banks, Tony Jennings, Tez Jennings, Cody Keough and D.J. Miller will play their final home games of their high school basketball careers.
“We’re going to try to get another conference win,” Tony Jennings said.
The Warriors (11-14) will look to avenge their 70-45 loss to Belleville West on Dec. 9 on the road. Granite City trailed the Maroons 20-7 after the first quarter.
A year ago, Granite City finished 0-14 in Southwestern Conference play. Since Roustio took over as Granite City head coach in 2008, the Warriors have won just seven games in league play. Granite City had one-win conference seasons in 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 and won two games in the 2012-2013 season.
This season, Granite City lost five conference games by nine points or less, including a 65-62 loss to Belleville East on Jan. 16 on the road. Miller said trying to win games in conference play is not easy.
“It’s tough and it’s a mental thing,” Miller said. “If we believe that we can win the conference games, I believe that we’ll win them. We’ve got to know that.”
On Friday, the Warriors came back from a four-point halftime deficit to beat the Lancers, who are tied for sixth with Belleville West in the conference standings at 2-10.
“We knew both of us were at the bottom of the conference, so we knew this game was going to come down to whoever played with the most heart,” said Miller, who scored 21 points, including 13 in the second half. “In the first half, they beat us and they were winning by four. In the second half, we knew we had to play two times harder as we did in the second half and we came out and did it.”
Granite City made 74 percent (25 for 34) of its free throws. They scored 16 points off of free throws in the fourth quarter. Junior Kenny Berry — the Warriors’ top scorer with 22 points — and Miller each scored eight points from the charity stripe.
“I told them before the game that this game will come down to three things — who plays the toughest defense, who goes to the glass and who knocks down free throws, especially in the fourth quarter,” Roustio said. “Those are three things that are last-minute reminders that I shared with them.”