GRANITE CITY — D.J. Miller is making up for lost time this winter.
After missing all of last season due to an injury, Miller returned to the Granite City boys' basketball team for his senior season. So far, Miller is enjoying his best season of his high school basketball career, averaging 12 points a game with 22 three-pointers.
“I wouldn’t even want to think about what it would be like if he wasn’t on our team,” Granite City coach Steve Roustio said.
The 17-year-old Miller showed why he’s valuable in the Warriors’ 64-60 win over the Belleville East Lancers on Friday at Memorial Gymnasium. He scored 21 points, including 13 in the second half, to help Granite City win its first Southwestern Conference game of the season.
“We knew we could do it,” Miller said. “We just had to play hard and play smart. We did that tonight and we got the W.”
The Warriors improved to 11-14 overall and 1-11 in league play with two regular season games remaining. They play at East St. Louis on Tuesday and wrap up their regular season on Friday against Belleville West at Memorial Gymnasium.
“The last two conference games, I just want to go out there and give it my all and come out with a W,” Miller said.
Belleville East dropped to 8-16 and 2-10 in conference play. The Lancers are tied for sixth with Belleville West in the league standings.
With the win on Friday, the Warriors avenged the 65-62 loss to the Lancers on Jan. 16 at Belleville East. They also snapped a three-game losing streak.
“This is one of those moments where the kids have found out if they just continue to have faith in one another and have faith in what we’re trying to tell them, they can get a win and that’s what happened for them tonight,” Roustio said. “They were able to get a win because they never gave up. I think they were a lot of lessons learned tonight in terms of that.”
The Warriors turned in a solid effort from the free-throw line, making 74 percent (24 of 35) of their free throws. They scored 16 points off of free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Every day in practice this past week, we’ve been working on free throws the whole time,” Miller said. “That played a big part today because if we weren’t working on them, we wouldn’t have made all of the free throws today.”
Miller went 8 of 11 from the charity stripe, including a pair of free throws with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Warriors a 48-47 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Granite City trailed 29-25 at halftime.
“It’s the first time I made my free throws in a while,” Miller said. “I just felt good today. I was confident at the free-throw line for the first time in a while.”
Junior Kenny Berry led the Warriors with 22 points. He was 8 of 10 from the free throw line.
Miller missed the 2013-2014 basketball season after suffering an injury while playing baseball during the summer of 2013. He said he was determined to come back for basketball this season after missing his junior season.
“I decided to play basketball because I couldn’t go this year without playing because I was out last year,” Miller said. “It was hard seeing them going through what they went through because they won two or three games. I just wanted to help them out this year.”
Miller said one of his teachers, Jaime Pamatot, gave him some motivation to come back this season. Before Friday’s game with the Lancers, Miller gave Pamatot a recognition award.
“I felt like she wanted me to work hard,” Miller said. “She wanted the best for me.”
Miller, who plans to play baseball at Ole Miss next year, is the Warriors’ second leading scorer behind Berry. He scored in double figures for the 14th time this season on Friday.
“We didn’t know if he was going to play because he’s such a great baseball player and he’s already signed to go play for an SEC school, which is big-time baseball,” Roustio said. “For him to make the decision to come back and play basketball with his teammates after sitting out a whole year, you’ve got to give the kid credit.”