GODFREY — Maurice Edwards gave Alton life.
The junior guard's buzzer-beating shot Wednesday led the Redbirds past the Chatham Glenwood Titans 46-45 to propel them into the Class 4A Alton Regional finals at 7 p.m. Friday at Alton High. The Birds (14-10) will now play the Quincy Blue Devils (21-5) in the title tilt. Glenwood ends its season at 18-11.
It didn't look good for Alton on Wednesday, down 45-42 with 16.6 seconds remaining, but Edwards hit back-to-back shots in the lane to direct his Redbirds to victory. He finished with a team-high 19, matching Joel Alexander of the Titans, who also netted 19.
“Taking big shots, I'm kind of used to it, me being the type of player I am. I'm aggressive,” Edwards said. “I just wanted to make the last shot for my teammates, because it's been such an emotional year for us.”
Glenwood head coach Todd Blakeman said it was a tough task to guard Edwards with his explosiveness driving to the basket.
“He goes so hard and I thought two or three times we were right there and he's so forceful when he goes through there you've got to try and get down and stay in front and most of the night I thought we did, but he hit some tough shots,” Blakeman said.
Alton coach Eric Smith admitted it wasn't the play they had drawn up, but Edwards improvised and got it done. He has confidence in his two-year starter to do that.
“We called a play and didn't get where we were supposed to be and Maurice just made a play,” Smith said. “He's a player.
“Especially the way they play with their pack, it's impressive the way he got to the paint. Very rarely did they have more than one guy outside of the paint, so for him to be able to get paint touches and get an opportunity to get inside and give us some opportunities was good.”
The Titans looked to have control late. After AHS took a 42-41 lead on a Marcus Latham basket with 57 seconds to go, Glenwood junior Parker Allen was able to score in the paint with 30 ticks left to give his team a 43-42 advantage. Then after a missed 3-pointer by Kevin Caldwell Jr., Glenwood's Matt Bahlmann corralled the rebound, was fouled and hit both his free throws to make it 45-42 in favor of the Titans with 16.6 seconds remaining, setting up Edwards' heroics.
“We just came up short,” Blakeman said. “Parker got the floater and the other times you've got to get your stops. You've got to contest shots and rebound. You've got to continue to do the things that got you here.”
Smith was happy to see the aggression the Redbirds played with late, because he didn't think they did that early in the game. Alton seemed to settle for the 3-pointer instead of taking it to the hole and it nearly set the stage for an early exit from the postseason.
The Birds led 12-9 after one quarter, but trailed 24-22 at the break and 35-31 after three quarters.
“We kept shooting 3s and we've been down this road before and that's just not us,” Smith said. “We can make a couple, or every once in awhile, through the flow of our offense, we can get a paint touch and a drive and kick, but just coming down the floor and chucking up 22-footers is not good for us. It's a recipe for disaster. We just got lucky.”
Edwards thought the Redbirds fell into a rut of playing selfish basketball in the first half and took some of the blame himself. He thought the entire team did a better job of sharing in the offense down the stretch.
“The first half I was trying to get my jump shot going and it wasn't really falling, so I had to drive. If I wanted to help my teammates I had to go to the hole,” he said. “The first half it was just selfish. Myself and my teammates were selfish with the ball. We were all trying to do too much. In the second half we just let the game come to us and we pushed the ball. We didn't push the ball at all in the first half. In the second half we had to push the ball.”
Now the Birds will see if they can ride the emotional roller coaster of Wednesday's win into Friday against a highly talented Quincy squad. The Blue Devils put on a clinic Tuesday, walloping the Granite City Warriors 64-35 in the other regional semifinal contest.
Smith gave a simple message for how Alton will have to perform to have an opportunity to knock off Quincy and win its second consecutive regional crown.
“Play better,” Smith said. “We've got to be stubborn. They're going to ball press us, they're going to run a 1-2-2 (zone defense) and the pace of the game, they're going to try and control that. We've got to find a way to do a little bit better job of making sure that we get touches inside the paint. Attack them in the paint, that's what we've got to do.”
CLASS 4A ALTON REGIONAL
Titans 9 15 11 10 — 45
Redbirds 12 10 9 15 — 46
Alton (14-10) — Paul Harris 4, Marcus Latham 7, Tre Smith 4, Kevin Caldwell Jr. 8, Maurice Edwards 19, Ty'ohn Trimble 4. 2FG — 14 3FG — 3 FT — 9 PF — 9.
Glenwood (18-11) — Matt Bahlmann 7, Joel Alexander 19, Ethan Hunt 5, Parker Allen 8, Will Hanlon 6. 2FG — 14 3FG — 4 FT — 5 PF — 10.