GODFREY — Maurice Edwards said his task is to give the Alton Redbirds unwavering leadership this season.
He led by example Friday night.
The 6-foot junior, the only returning starter from last year’s 27-5 squad, helped guide the Redbirds past Chatham Glenwood, 58-47, in the AHS Tip-Off Classic. The 2-0 Redbirds, the two-time defending Tip-Off champs, face 2-0 Jacksonville at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for the tourney title. Jacksonville shaded Northwest Academy of St. Louis, 64-62, in Friday’s first game.
“I like the way we are playing,” Edwards said. “We have a lot of young players and sometimes they will make mistakes, so it’s a learning experience.”
He scored a team-best 20 points, including 8 in the fourth quarter, to stir the Redbirds. Marcus Latham contributed 13 points and Kevin Caldwell Jr. netted 10 points, half of them in the final quarter. The Birds sank 11 of 14 free throws down the stretch to close out their victory.
“I talk to them and tell them just to be ready and focused to play,” Edwards said. “We want to be physically and mentally strong.”
The Birds showed plenty of strength at the outset as they made 5 of their first 7 shots, including all 4 treys. They led 14-4 and made it a 19-6 blitz by the end of the first quarter.
“They are quick and they have a nice team,” Titans’ coach Todd Blakeman said. “They really shot the ball well early in the game. They stroked it.”
AHS head coach Eric Smith savored the quick getaway.
“I like the way we played tonight,” he said. “We came out with energy. We played the way we have been practicing.
“It was night and day from the way we played Wednesday.”
Midway through the third quarter, the Redbirds stretched their advantage to 41-23 and appeared to be on the verge of a blowout. Yet that never happened.
Glenwood responded with a 14-0 spree and suddenly, it was a game again.
“I was proud of the way our kids came back,” Blakeman said. “It’s tough to do when you trail that much.”
Parker Allen, a 6-2 junior guard, spurred the Titans. He logged a game-high 22 points, with 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter.
And just when it seemed Glenwood was about to overtake Alton, the Redbirds responded with a burst of their own. First, Caldwell Jr. converted a 3-point play to make it 44-37 with 5:09 to go.
The Titans crept to within 47-43 with 3:51 remaining, then Edwards and Caldwell Jr. both sank two free throws apiece to make it 51-43 with 3:24 to play. Glenwood got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
“I think we slowed down a little bit when they (Titans) came back,” Edwards said. “We played into their hands.”
Smith pointed out, “They made a big run against us and they can do that. Glenwood is a good team, they are well-coached and they are really structured. They do the right thing every year.”
If Smith has his way, the Redbirds will continue to emphasize doing things correctly. It starts with unselfish play, he said.
“We were sharing the ball a lot better and that’s why we got some wide open shots,” he said. “We talked a lot about doing that and I thought we really played well in the first half.”
They connected on 9 of 20 treys in a 17-for-38 shooting performance. Glenwood made 19 of 47 shots, including 12 of 23 the second half.
In the first half, Alton made 10 of 21 shots, including 8 of 13 on 3-pointers. Jordan Golley sank three of them for his nine points. Tre Smith pitched in six points. Latham registered three treys, Edwards had two and Caldwell one.
“We’re a small team, so we have to push the ball and shoot it well,” Edwards said.
Smith foresees a dogfight with a tall and talented Jacksonville team in the championship contest. Before they play, Chatham Glenwood and Northwest, both 0-2, meet at 6 p.m. Saturday
“They are similar to Glenwood, but they have more size,” Smith said of the Crimsons. “They are big, strong and physical.”
Following Saturday’s tourney finale, the Redbirds are idle until Friday, Dec. 4, when they open Southwestern Conference competition at East St. Louis.
ALTON TIP-OFF CLASSIC
ALTON 58, CHATHAM GLENWOOD 47
Glenwood 6 11 13 17 — 47
Alton 19 11 11 17 — 58
Glenwood (0-2) – Karson Aherin 2, Joel Alexander 7, Ethan Hunt 11, Parker Allen 22, Will Hanlon 5. 2GH-17 3FG-2 FT-7 PF-19
Alton (2-0) – Maurice Edwards 20, Kevin Caldwell Jr. 10, Marcus Latham 13, Jordan Golley 9, Tre Smith 6. 2FG-8 3FG-9 FT-15 PF-16