COLLINSVILLE — The sting of a narrow season-ending defeat pained the Alton Redbirds immeasurably on Friday at Vergil Fletcher Gym.
They experienced acute heartbreak after suffering a 50-48 loss to East Moline United in the championship game of the Class 4A Collinsville Sectional in front of 2,500 fans at Fletcher Gym.
“It hurts and it’s definitely a letdown,” AHS senior guard Marcus Latham said. “But we did something special this season. We were two points short of winning a sectional.”
Maurice Edwards’ long 3-point shot bounced off the rim just before the buzzer and 24-6 East Moline celebrated its first sectional title since 2003. The Panthers, who have won 16 of their last 18 games, meet high-powered Chicago Simeon at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Normal Super-Sectional at Illinois State University.
“My heart stopped three times on that last shot,” East Moline coach Ryan Webber said of Edwards’ near-miss. “When it bounced off the rim, I knew we had it.”
And the Redbirds, who finished 16-11, saw their remarkable postseason run end. They slipped past Chatham Glenwood on Edwards’ last-second shot, overcame a 9-point fourth quarter deficit against Quincy and then ousted top-rated Edwardsville.
Yet this time, they couldn’t get the proper bounce at the end of the game. East Moline did all the right things down the stretch to overturn a 43-35 deficit with 6 minutes remaining and deny Alton its first sectional championship since 2005.
“Mo (Maurice) made a lot of big plays tonight and he’s a dynamic player,” Redbirds’ coach Eric Smith said of Edwards, a 6-foot-1 junior. He led the Redbirds with 18 points, including a dozen in the second half.
Smith added, “We wanted him to take the last shot and he did that. We talked in the huddle that we would take whatever they’d give us and they did a nice job challenging him on the last play.”
Traveon Buchanan, a 6-1 junior and the Panthers’ top gun, defended Edwards on the last shot and realized he needed to guard him closely.
“He’s a great player,” Buchanan said of Edwards. “I commend him and his team for the way they played.”
Buchanan, a transfer from Chicago Simeon, proved nearly unstoppable. He scored a game-high 28 points, with 18 of those coming in the second half. Buchanan’s 9 points in the fourth quarter included a pair of free throws with 8.8 seconds remaining to determine the outcome. The see-saw game was tied 11 times.
“It means everything to me to win it,” Buchanan said. “We’ve worked hard for this and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Latham pitched in 13 points to back Edwards in spurring the Redbirds. Paul Harris contributed 9 points, 8 in the second half.
Overall, the Birds made 19 of 37 shots, but just 7 of 13 free throws. And 16 turnovers, with 12 of them in the first half, nagged them. East Moline made 19 of 41 shots and was 8-for-8 from the foul line.
“I’m proud as I could possibly be of our guys,” Webber said, “because Alton was playing great. We sort of willed it out at the end. Traveon did a great job contesting Edwards on that last shot.
“Edwards is a heck of a player.”
It was Edwards igniting the Redbirds late in the third quarter when they shot in front 37-30. He scored 7 consecutive points for them after they held a slim 30-28 lead.
East Moline, however, wasn’t finished and used a 9-0 spurt — thanks mainly to Buchanan — to gain a 44-43 lead with 4:13 to go. It went back and forth until Buchanan’s pair of free throws in the closing moments proved decisive.
“Both of them are really good players and fun to watch,” Smith said of Edwards and Buchanan.
Latham noted, “We wanted to try and slow down Buchanan because he’s a really good player.”
The Birds had their share of good players emerge during a strong postseason surge. They made it to the Sweet 16 and that was sweet for them.
“After the game, I told them I loved them,” Smith of his players. “I was really happy with what they accomplished this season and tonight was no different.”
CLASS 4A COLLINSVILLE SECTIONAL
EAST MOLINE 50, ALTON 48
East Moline 12 12 9 17 — 50
Alton 10 12 15 11 — 48
East Moline (24-6) — Jacob Meeske 8, Bryant Jefferson 6, Taelor Lopez 4, De’Ante Walker 4, Devynn Wakefield 2, Travelon Buchanan 26. 2FG-15 3FG-4 FT-8 PF-13
Alton (16-11) – Kevin Caldwell Jr. 2, Marcus Latham 13, Maurice Edwards 18, Tre Smith 2, Paul Harris 9, Ty’ohn Trimble 4. 2FG-16 3FG-3 FT-7 PF-12