GODFREY — A narrow loss stung the Alton Redbirds in more ways than one Tuesday.
It kept them spinning and cost them a share of the Southwestern Conference boys' basketball lead.
Belleville East’s 59-57 victory handed Alton its first league loss in five games. The Redbirds, who fell to 7-5 overall, lost for the fourth time in their last five games.
Edwardsville, getting a last-second 62-61 victory at East St. Louis, took over sole possession of first place in the SWC. The Tigers shot to 5-0.
“I want to see better overall play and have us play more unselfishly,” AHS coach Eric Smith said. “When we have been successful, we’ve played with a lot of energy at both ends and shared the basketball.”
Improving Belleville East, winning for the sixth time in its last seven games, lifted its record to 10-4. The Lancers improved to 3-2 in the SWC.
“I’m very happy because this is a huge road win,” Lancers’ coach Abel Schrader said. “It was a game of runs and our kids responded really well.”
Belleville East owned a 57-45 advantage midway through the fourth quarter, but the Lancers couldn’t put the finishing touches on their win until the final play.
The Birds used a 12-1 binge to get to within 58-57 with 53.7 seconds remaining. EnRico Sylvester made 1 of 2 free throws 20 seconds later to give the Lancers a 2-point lead.
Yet the outcome was still in doubt. Kevin Caldwell Jr. of Alton missed a field-goal attempt, but teammate Maurice Edwards snared the rebound and the Birds played for a tying or winning shot.
“We wanted to go to Maurice on the last play and have him take the ball to the basket,” Smith said.
Edwards, the Birds’ leader with 20 points, couldn’t get a shot. Marcus Latham missed a try and Smith figured the Birds fouled the Lancers before the game ended. The officials ruled otherwise and Belleville East escaped with a hard-earned win.
“We had a little more sense of urgency in the fourth quarter and they (Lancers) made some mistakes,” Smith said.
Schrader said, “It was a pretty close game and except for 2-3 minutes at the end of the first quarter and 2-3 minutes at the end of the game, I was proud of the way we fought and played."
East led 20-10 early on, but Alton went on a 9-0 spree as Edwards punched in 7 of those points. The 6-foot junior scored 10 points in the first quarter and had 8 more, including a dunk, in the fourth quarter. Overall, he made 9 of 12 shots.
Teammate Tre Smith pitched in with 12 points. The Redbirds made 24 of 55 shots and were 5-for-10 from the foul line.
Javon Pickett, the Lancers’ top gun, led them with 19 points, though it was nearly 5 points below his average. The 6-4 junior scored 111 points during East's four games at the Collinsville Holiday Classic.
Jalen Jones contributed 14 points and Drew Millas added 10 points. Belleville East made 24 of 52 shots, but just 8 of 14 free throws. And the Lancers were 3 of 8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, when the Redbirds staged their comeback.
“We can play better and we have to keep working on it,” Schrader said. The Lancers have won four in succession, with three of those victories coming in the Collinsville tournament. They claimed the consolation championship following an opening-game loss to Decatur MacArthur, tourney runner-up to Belleville Althoff.
“We played some good teams at Collinsville and I think that helped us for this game,” Schrader said. “Alton is a run-and-jump team and — for the most part — we did a good job against them.”
The Redbirds go to Belleville West on Friday, welcome East St. Louis on Jan. 12 and then travel to SWC leader Edwardsville on Jan. 15. So things in the league may become clearer by then.
“We play well in stretches, but we need more consistency,” Smith said. “I think the guys are searching for someone to take the reins and we need them to assume responsibility.”
That indicates an appeal for increased leadership — across the board. It could come from anybody, Smith said.
He pointed out, “The guys who score the most points don’t necessarily have to be the team leaders.”
BELLEVILLE EAST 59, ALTON 57
Belleville East 20 11 17 11 — 59
Alton 19 12 8 18 — 57
East (10-4, 3-2) – Javon Pickett 19, EnRico Sylvester 6, Jalen Jones 14, Isaiah King 8, Drew Millas 10, Jordan Yates 2. 2FG-21 3FG-3 FT-8 PF-12
Alton (7-5, 4-1) – Kevin Caldwell Jr. 5, Maurice Edwards 20, Jordan Golley 7, Tre Smith 12, Marcus Latham 5, Kenneth Burnett 3, Ty’ohn Trimble 3, Paul Harris 2. 2FG-20 3FG-4 FT-5 PF-18