ST. LOUIS — Maurice Edwards was feeling it Saturday in the Cardinal Ritter Classic and it left the Alton Redbirds feeling good after a 61-60 win over St. Mary's.
Edwards hit a clutch jumper with 8 seconds to go in the game to put the finishing touches on a 24-point performance. Paul Harris then defended the last ditch effort in the paint by the Dragons, yanking down the rebound with 0.9 seconds remaining to secure the win.
AHS improved to 9-6 with the victory, while St. Mary's slipped to 11-7.
“I think the biggest key was Ty'ohn (Trimble), Kenny (Burnett) and Paul (Harris) all came in and sparked us and gave us some good minutes,” Alton head coach Eric Smith said. “Really in that second quarter that got us back in the game. We kind of limited some of the things they were trying to do and we played hard.”
Edwards was solid throughout the game, knocking down four treys and dispersing his points between all four quarters. He had 11 at the break.
He was feeling confident and when he found the ball in his hands with the Redbirds trailing 60-59 in the waning seconds, he knew what he had to do.
“I had a feeling I was going to take it, because my teammates, I think they all wanted me to take it,” he said. “I had been hitting all night and it was just the way I'd been playing all night.
“I was feeling it all game. I just wanted to play aggressive and lead my team to the win.”
Harris, who has been a nice boost for the Birds off the bench with a paint presence, said he knew what his job was in those final seconds and his goal was just to defend and corral the basketball.
“I had confidence in Maurice's shot,” Harris said. “We wanted Maurice to take the shot and then when coach called timeout he said they were going to try to come to the hole. He put me up front and I let him get past me a little bit, but once I got to the hole I got a little tip on the shot and I just grabbed it and I knew they were going to foul me anyway.”
It came down to a series of runs. The Redbirds started cold in the first and third quarters, but made their presence felt in the second and fourth quarters when it counted most.
They closed the first half on an 11-2 spree to send them into the break up 32-25, but then allowed the Dragons to compile runs of 9-0 and 15-3 to leap ahead 51-40 with 7:47 to play in the game. Alton then went on a 7-0 spurt to dwindle it to 51-47 and chipped away until Edwards hit the game-winner.
“I always tell my team, basketball is a game of spurts,” St. Mary's head coach Kevin Lee said. “They go on a run, then we're going to go on a run, but they just had the last run. I told my guys this was a big game for us because that's a good large school team and we're small. Nobody was probably picking us to win, but I was happy with my guys. I can't be mad at them. We would have loved to win, but this game is going to help us down the road.”
St. Mary's charged out to an 8-1 advantage to start the game and later went up 19-12 before Marcus Latham got a steal and a slam to slice it to 19-14 in favor of the Dragons at the close of the first quarter.
Smith said it's just a matter of the Redbirds finding their focus. They have lapses sometimes in games and at the beginning of the first and third he thought that's what happened.
“We talked about it in the locker room coming out, we've had a lot of stretches where we've done a really nice job in a quarter and got ourselves back into a game, or given ourselves a nice comfortable lead and then for whatever reason we lose focus and make some not very good plays,” Smith said. “It's been feast or famine.”
It was feast in the second quarter for Alton. Trailing 23-21 with 4:19 to play in the half, the Birds soared on an 11-2 run before entering the locker room. Harris started it with a bucket in the paint and then Kevin Caldwell Jr. drained a 3-pointer as he was falling to the floor with 2.2 seconds to go to cap it. He was fouled on the play, but failed to hit the free throw. Alton led 32-25 at the break.
St. Mary's erupted on a 9-0 run to start the second half. Traditional 3-point plays from Tony Burkes and Yahuza Rases highlighted the spurt. The Dragons shot ahead 34-32.
Edwards hit a field goal and trey to put AHS back on top 37-36 with 2:35 left in the third, but then St. Mary's enjoyed a 13-2 spree to construct a 49-39 lead. Harris hit a free throw as the quarter closed to cut make the deficit 49-40 heading into the fourth.
St. Mary's extended the lead to 51-40 to open the final frame, but a 7-0 spurt by the Redbirds whittled it to 51-47. Edwards started that spurt with a 3-pointer.
Lee admitted that Edwards was tough to contain.
“He's a heck of a player,” Lee said. “I watched him on film and he can play, but I knew that coming in. I thought my guys did a good job for the most part, but he just made plays.
“He's just so quick and he's deceptive and has all that shake and bake stuff. He knows how to play, but we just have to have team defense and it hasn't been there lately.”
The Dragons continued to lead though until a 6-0 run by Alton closed it out. Caldwell hit a 3-pointer, Harris it the front end of two free throws and then Edwards hit the big shot to win it.
Edwards thinks the win will give the Redbirds the focus they need to make a nice run through the second half of the Southwestern Conference.
“I think we're ready,” he said.
Harris added, “This can boost us a little bit, because we've been losing a little bit more than we should. I think we should be alright now with confidence. We've got a rough stretch coming up, but we should do OK.”
CARDINAL RITTER CLASSIC
ALTON 61, ST. MARY'S 60
Dragons 19 6 14 11 — 60
Redbirds 14 18 8 21 — 61
Alton (9-6) — Marcus Latham 8, Jordan Golley 1, Tre Smith 5, Kevin Caldwell Jr. 9, Maurice Edwards 24, Paul Harris 9, Ty'ohn Trimble 5. 2FG — 16 3FG — 8 FT — 5 PF — 16
St. Mary's (11-7) — Tony Burkes 13, Yuri Collins 11, Zach Ortinau 3, Yahuza Rases 16, Melvin Wilson 2, Isaiah King 5, Miles Jones 10. 2FG — 24 3FG — 2 FT — 6 PF — 12