GODFREY — A sluggish start turned into a soaring finish for the Alton Redbirds on Friday at home.
The Birds bested the Belleville East Lancers 84-59 in a Southwestern Conference game, improving to 20-4 and 8-2 on the league slate. East plummeted to 8-14 overall and 2-8 in the SWC.
Alton saw 13 players join the scoring fun, led by Bryan Hudson's 18 points. Hudson was one of four Birds in double digits, joined by Carlos Anderson and Demonte' Wigfall with 12 each and Isaiah Thurmond with 11.
“When we're running and jumping we've got to rotate a lot of guys in and out,” Hudson said. “We need those guys (off the bench) to pitch in and tonight they did their job.”
Wigfall added, “We've got a lot of depth and coach said we've got to have a lot of energy. If everyone works hard we can get a lot of contributions from everybody on the court.”
The way the night started though it didn't look like it would end up so lopsided. On Jan. 6 in Belleville, the Redbirds walloped the Lancers 77-30, so head coach Eric Smith wondered if his team came out a little lackadaisical on Friday remembering that outcome. Smith hopes AHS changes that mindset because it has hurt the squad in the past.
“Like we talked to them, we had the same approach in a regional game (loss to Quincy) last year and it cost us our season,” Smith said. “We also in my opinion had the same approach last weekend (Granite City). We're blessed that we have some pretty good athletes, kids that can play and do some really nice stuff, but with that also comes a lot of responsibility that you have to approach the game the right way and no matter who the opponent is you have to play a certain way.”
At the 3:15 mark of the first quarter the Redbirds found themselves down 8-7 after a bucket by East's Kimon Chapman, but raced in front 15-10 by the close of the frame.
The Lancers hung around in the second quarter too, grabbing a 20-19 advantage with 4:20 to play when Jalen Jones hit a shot. Alton went on a tear from there though and never looked back.
Hudson picked up a traditional 3-point play to put the Birds up 22-20. They outscored East 21-6 over the final four minutes of the first half, entering the locker room with a comfortable 40-26 lead.
High pressure defense and high flying offense sparked Alton to that lead. The Lancers had 11 first-half turnovers on their way to 16 for the game, while the Redbirds had eight first-half slam dunks.
Anderson slammed home four of them, Hudson had two more and Maurice and Darrius Edwards each had one. Darrius Edwards' dunk came with 4.6 seconds left in the half on a nifty alleyoop pass from Nigel Harris. The Birds had a few missed opportunities above the rim to boot.
“We were doing our thing and we ended up getting steals and it came out that way,” Hudson said. “We have a few plays trying to get the crowd and the team energized.”
What pleased Smith about the dunk fest was the aggressiveness in which Anderson was attacking the basket. He eventually left the game when he hurt his hand going for a dunk in the third quarter and didn't return. Smith said it's just a bruise and Anderson will be fine. The Birds led 49-29 when Anderson left so there was no need to possibly aggravate the injury.
“The most encouraging part is Carlos was going at the rim like he was going to rip it off the wall,” Smith said. “That's the kind of approach we need from him.”
Alton really turned it up in the third quarter. The Birds sandwiched a 10-0 run in the middle of a 23-point quarter to take an insurmountable 63-38 lead entering the final eight minutes. AHS and the Lancers each scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it was too late for an East comeback.
With the bench in shots continued to fall for the Redbirds. Wigfall was a major benefactor of the solid bench work. He was 5 of 7 from the field, including 2 for 2 from 3-point land in the win. Lavonte Hobbs and Kevin Caldwell added fourth quarter treys, too.
“Coach told me I needed to knock down shots,” Wigfall said with a smile. “I get a lot of shots during practice when we're scrimmaging so I just did it this week and I had a good game.”
With Collinsville, Edwardsville, Belleville West and O'Fallon remaining on the schedule before the postseason, Smith just hopes Alton puts those sluggish starts in the rearview mirror.
“We've got some pretty good teams coming up, Collinsville, O'Fallon, we're not going to be able to play like that against those guys.”
ALTON 84, BELLEVILE EAST 59
East 10 16 12 21 — 59
Alton 15 25 23 21 — 84
ALTON (20-4, 8-2) — Darrius Edwards 6, Carlos Anderson 12, Nigel Harris 5, Bryan Hudson 18, Maurice Edwards 5, Lavonte Hobbs 3, Isaiah Thurmond 11, Josh Lovings 2, Demonte' Wigfall 12, Dalon Henley 1, Darius Collins 2, Kevin Caldwell 3, Jordan Golley 2. 2FG — 28 3FG — 5 FT — 11 PF — 10
EAST (8-14, 2-8) — EnRico Sylvester 9, Jalen Jones 7, Drew Milas 4, Javon Pickett 4, Brady Schanuel 9, Kimon Chapman 13, Brian Mosby 4, Feron Doss 3, Bryant Brock 2, Kendall Montgomery 2. 2FG — 22 3FG — 2 FT — 5 PF — 13