GODFREY — The Alton Redbirds kept their Southwestern Conference dreams alive on Tuesday.
It took the Redbirds awhile to find their stride at AHS against the East St. Louis Flyers, but once they did they were able to pull out a much needed 79-74 win.
With the victory, the Birds improved to 11-8 overall and 7-3 in the SWC. The loss sank the Flyers to 9-12 and 5-5 in league action.
The Redbirds are perched in second place in the conference, looking up at league leader Edwardsville, which is 9-0. Alton has four games remaining in the SWC and three games to make up.
AHS head coach Eric Smith just wants his squad to show some consistency down the stretch and in the postseason. After starting 7-2, the Birds are 4-6 over their last 10 games.
“We just need to play better,” Smith said. “We started out the season like gangbusters. We hit a little bit of a lull. The win against (Belleville) East (on Friday) was a good win. This was a good win.”
Five Redbirds reached double figures in Tuesday's victory, led by junior Maurice Edwards' 26 points. Edwards netted 15 of his points in the second half, including 10 in the fourth quarter when it counted most. He put the exclamation point on the game with a dunk at the buzzer.
“Big props to Edwards, he's a strong ball handler,” East St. Louis assistant coach Curtis Burton said. Burton coached the Flyers Tuesday in the absence of head coach Phillip Gilbert, who was at the hospital for the birth of his child. “We've just got to do a better job of helping our guards out and containing that defense.”
East Side led for the majority of the game. Alton grabbed its first lead of the game, 31-29, on a bucket by Tre Smith at the 3:23 mark of the second quarter. Smith had a chance to complete a 3-point play but missed the free throw.
The lead was short lived though, as the Flyers tied it just 12 seconds later on a basket by Kenny Roberson and carried a 43-38 lead into the locker room. They had led 19-13 at the end of the first quarter.
A field goal from Ty'ohn Trimble handed AHS a 55-54 lead with 1:57 to go in the third quarter, but Kerion Chairs scored with a minute to go in the stanza to put East Side ahead 56-55. That's the way it remained as the buzzer sounded on the third quarter.
But the fourth quarter belonged to the Redbirds. Both teams jockeyed for position early, but a 3-pointer from Marcus Latham with 3:42 to play put Alton in front 69-66 and it never trailed again.
Alton began to hit the offensive boards late, which helped their cause. Kevin Caldwell Jr. pulled down a couple of big offensive rebounds to set up scores for the Birds.
Rebounding was an emphasis of the Alton coaching staff entering the game, it just took awhile to sink in.
“That's been the emphasis the whole time and the first three trips down the floor I think we gave up three offensive rebounds,” Smith said. “We talked about it in the locker room before, we talked about it at halftime, but when it was time to get it done the kids did it.”
Burton just thought it came down to who wanted it more and the rebounding effort by the Redbirds pushed them over the top.
“When it comes to that it's all heart,” Burton said. “Rebounding is all heart and you've got to block out and fight for it and a few times they wanted it more than us. Our guys are undersized and a lot of our small guards were down there banging and giving a great effort. I'm not mad at the guys, they played hard. It was a good game, better than the first one we played Alton.”
Alton defeated the Flyers 65-62 on Dec. 4 at East Side, so Tuesday completed the season sweep. It marked the first time the Redbirds had swept East St. Louis in a season since 2006.
Smith just hopes the Birds can discover some consistency down the stretch. They've shown flashes throughout the season and there's still time for them to find their focus.
“We've got a good basketball team,” Smith said. “We really, truly do. We haven't been as consistent as we would like, but we've got a good basketball team. Our kids are resilient and they'll find a way.
“It's a long season and we've got to get them to where they're playing for each other. And being unselfish doesn't necessarily have anything to do with passing the ball to an open guy, it has to do with are you going to do the job when you're out on the floor. Are you going to get to the right spots, are you going to box out, are you going to be happy if we take you out of the game and put somebody else in at a certain point in time. Are you going to be happy if we ask you to do something besides scoring 16 points and you only get four points. Those are some of the things we struggle with, but the last couple games we've hopefully turned the corner a little bit.”
Next up for Alton is a 7:30 p.m. SWC game Friday at Collinsville.
ALTON 79, EAST ST. LOUIS 74
Flyers 19 24 13 18 — 74
Redbirds 13 25 17 24 — 79
Alton (11-8, 7-3) — Marcus Latham 13, Tre Smith 10, Kevin Caldwell Jr. 15, Maurice Edwards 26, Paul Harris 11, Kenny Burnett 2, Ty'ohn Trimble 2. 2FG — 25 3FG — 5 FT — 14 PF — 13.
East St. Louis (9-12, 5-5) — Kerion Chairs 9, Marquise Chairs 15, Kenny Roberson 13, Arthur Carter 12, Terrence Hargrove 2, Patrick Baxter 13, Karon Randolph 8, Jermaine Grissom 2. 2FG — 29 3FG — 2 FT — 10 PF — 19.