GODFREY — Darrius Edwards started strong and the Alton Redbirds finished strong, beating Southwestern Conference rival O'Fallon 73-52 on Senior Night at AHS on Friday.
Edwards poured in 12 in the first quarter and 20 altogether in the first half, before finishing with a game-high 25. The Redbirds led by as much as 53-24 in the third quarter on their way to the lopsided win.
With the victory Alton finished the regular season at 24-4 and 12-2 in the SWC. The Panthers slipped to 17-10 and 9-5 with the loss.
“They've got a lot of guys and they keep rotating guys in and they don't lose much,” O'Fallon head coach Rick Gibson said. “They're so balanced. They've got a good inside-outside game. One night it might be the inside guys killing you and the next night they're making 3s. It's hard because you can't really pressure them because their guards are strong and can handle it. Tonight they were making some shots from the perimeter. You try and zone them up a little bit to take away some of their penetration and they make shots. They can beat you in a lot of different ways.”
Edwards was beating the Panthers in a lot of different ways early on. The senior guard scored all 12 of Alton's points in the first quarter, highlighted by a pair of explosive one-handed dunks. O'Fallon led 8-4 before Edwards went on an 8-0 run on his own.
In the second quarter he stepped out and hit a couple 3-pointers, including one he banked in. Edwards said he was just stoked to play on Senior Night.
“My team put me in a good mood before the game and we turned it up because it was Senior Night,” he said. “Why not leave it all on the court for this last game?”
AHS coach Eric Smith was happy to see Edwards' energy early on, because he didn't feel the rest of the Redbirds had it at the onset. He understands the distractions of Senior Night though, so he chalks it up to that.
“We were a little sluggish to start out with,” Smith said. “(Edwards) had a little bit of energy. Offensively he did some nice stuff in that first quarter to kind of get us through our struggles. The pace and the tempo was pretty slow with the emotions of everything else gong on. It's pretty understandable with Senior Night.”
Donovan Franklin of the Panthers scored a basket and a trey to put O'Fallon ahead 13-12 to start the second quarter, but two free throws from Demonte' Wigfall and an alleyoop from Maurice Edwards to Carlos Anderson put Alton up for good at 16-13.
When Josh Lovings sank a trey with four seconds to go in the first half, the Redbirds extended their lead to double digits at 32-22 entering the break.
By the third quarter they found their rhythm. They tacked on 13 points to start the second half to add to Lovings' trey and construct a 16-0 run. Then after two points by Franklin, AHS netted another eight points to parlay it into a 24-2 marathon run, grabbing the biggest lead of the game at 53-24 with 1:36 to go in the third quarter.
The run included treys from Darrius Edwards and Wigfall and a traditional 3-point play from Bryan Hudson.
O'Fallon made a valiant effort though, closing out the third quarter on an 11-0 spurt to cut it 53-35 entering the fourth quarter. Parker Roustio hit a 3-pointer and Darien McClain tacked on a 2-pointer and a pair of treys for the Panthers.
“They did us a favor and took out a lot of their kids there,” Gibson said. “We were down 10 at the half and at that point we talked about not trying to get it all back at once, but trying to cut into the lead, but we had to win the quarter and man, they blitzed us from the start in the third quarter. It wasn't much of a game from that point on. We made a little bit of a run, but they had taken a lot of their guys out and in the fourth quarter they got serious again and got their main guys back in.”
O'Fallon got as close as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but could never climb any closer.
Ten Redbirds scored in the contest, led by Darrius Edwards' 25. Anderson and Hudson each had nine, while Lovings scored eight and Wigfall had seven to highlight the group.
Alton carries a seven-game winning streak into the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional next week. The top-seeded Redbirds play No. 4 Granite City at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
Smith thinks the Birds are ready, but admitted he'll feel better when he sees how they perform Tuesday.
“I'll feel better after the game is played I hope,” Smith said with a smile. “It is what it is. I thought we were OK at that point and time last year, but it's kids and we have to find a way to make sure the intensity and the focus are there on Tuesday and Friday night.”
Last season the Redbirds found themselves shocked in a 64-48 loss to Quincy in Quincy in the regional opener. That loss isn't far from Alton players' minds and Darrius Edwards assured there will be no lulls on Tuesday from himself or his teammates.
“That makes me very hungry,” Edwards said of the loss to Quincy. “I was a junior and I was thinking, 'I got another year.' But now this is my last year and we've got to go all the way.
“We've just got to keep playing together, sharing the ball and believing in each other.”
ALTON 73, O'FALLON 52
O'Fallon 8 14 13 17 — 52
Alton 12 20 21 20 — 73
ALTON (24-4, 12-2) — Darrius Edwards 25, Carlos Anderson 9, Nigel Harris 4, Bryan Hudson 9, Isaiah Thurmond 3, Maurice Edwards 4, Demonte' Wigfall 7, Lavonte Hobbs 1, Josh Lovings 8, Kevin Caldwell 3. 2FG — 23 3FG — 6 FT — 8 PF — 11
O'FALLON (17-10, 9-5) — Darien McClain 18, Donovan Franklin 19, Bradley Harrison 2, Chance Armstrong 4, Parker Roustio 3, Alex Orr 6. 2FG — 13 3FG — 7 FT — 1 PF — 16