GRANITE CITY — It wasn’t what Jalan Banks, Dez Jennings, Tony Jennings, Cody Keough and D.J. Miller had in mind.
The Granite City seniors had set their sights on celebrating a victory in the final home game of their high school basketball careers on Friday against the Belleville West Maroons at Memorial Gymnasium.
But the seniors left Memorial Gymnasium with a loss. Belleville West came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to beat the Warriors 63-59 to not only sweep the regular season series, but end an eight-game losing streak.
“It was really tough,” Banks said. “We had the momentum coming into the game. After halftime, we just fell apart. We couldn’t play defense.”
Now, the seniors are focusing on helping the Warriors turn in a strong postseason. Granite City will play Alton at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals of the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional.
Banks said he’ll be thrilled if his team wins a regional championship in his senior year. The Warriors haven’t won a regional title since 2002.
“That would be very big,” Banks said.
Granite City is the No. 4 seed in the four-team regional. Alton is the top seed and will take a 24-4 record into Tuesday’s meeting with the Warriors. The Redbirds beat the Warriors twice during the regular season.
“This is the third season, so to speak,” Granite City coach Steve Roustio said. “Everybody is 0-0. If you win, you go practice and get ready for the next game. If you lose, you turn in your uniform. Everybody’s on the same boat as far as that's concerned.”
Belleville West, which beat the Warriors 70-45 in the last meeting on Dec. 9, finished its regular season at 8-18 overall and 3-11 in conference play. Senior Eugene Jones scored a game-high 26 points, including 17 in the second half.
After trailing 37-28 at halftime, the Maroons rallied to take the lead for good with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter, when Jones scored a basket to give his team a 53-52 lead. West made 75 percent (18 of 24) of its free throws.
“You’ve got to give Belleville West a lot of credit because they fought and to be quite honest with you, they wanted the game,” Roustio said. “They’ve got what they wanted. They fought for it and they got it.”
Junior Kenny Berry scored 21 points, including 16 in the first half, and Miller finished with 16 points for the Warriors, who finished 1-13 in Southwestern Conference play.
All of the seniors were honored before Friday’s game against Belleville West. They also were in the starting lineup.
“I looked forward to it,” said Banks, who finished with nine points. “It was a lot of fun. It’s just sad that it’s my last game playing at Granite City High School.”
The seniors helped the Warriors make a huge improvement from last season. Granite City is 11-16 after winning just two games a year ago. The Warriors won a pair of tournament championships, one in Granite City and the other at Triad.
“This team really progressed throughout the season,” Banks said.
The Warriors lost eight games by nine points or less, including Friday’s game with West.
“We’ve done a good job of closing the gap and making everything more competitive this year in terms of consistency,” Roustio said. “We’ve been competitive. In the past, we’ve been competitive. We’ll play somebody good, then we kind of fall off and we’ll come back and maybe we’ll beat somebody good outside the conference. Then, we’ll play another conference game and not do so well and then we come back and play a tough game. This year, it hasn’t been the case.”
Banks said his team will have a bright future even though it will lose five players to graduation.
“We’ll do well because we have a lot of good underclassmen,” Banks said. “We’ve got Kenny, Ron (Allen) and Tra’ron (Allen) coming back. A lot of the kids and underclassmen got heart. If they work hard in practice and work hard in games, they’ll have some success.”