GODFREY — Marcus Latham first varsity start for the Alton Redbirds bordered on the remarkable Wednesday.
Make that Re-Marcus-Able.
The 6-foot-1 senior lefty poured in 21 points to lead the Redbirds past Northwest Academy of St. Louis, 70-61, in the AHS Tip-Off Classic. Jacksonville shaded Chatham Glenwood, 41-38, in the tourney’s opening game during a special night at AHS. Six individuals and two teams were inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I was anxious and excited to play because I didn’t get to play a lot the last three years,” Latham said.
He was relegated to backup duties last season on a senior-laden team that included starters Carlos Anderson, Darrius Edwards, Bryan Hudson and Isaiah Thurmond. Junior Maurice Edwards is the lone starter back from last year’s 27-5 squad, so the Redbirds are somewhere in between rebuilding and reloading.
And that created an opportunity for Latham.
“I know I can be a top player,” he said.
Northwest coach Gerald Jones said, “He surprised us. But he’s a good player.”
Alton coach Eric Smith added, “Marcus is capable of doing that. He had to play behind some good kids last year.”
Sophomore Kevin Caldwell Jr. and returnee Edwards both pitched in 15 points to spur the Redbirds against a dogged Northwest squad. The Redbirds couldn’t put the finishing touches on their victory until the final two minutes.
“I really didn’t like what I saw,” Smith said of the overall outing. “In practice, we were sharing the ball, playing unselfishly and playing good defense. We didn’t do that tonight. We kind of went back to playing one-on-one basketball
“It’s what we do collectively that matters the most.”
The best thing the Redbirds did was make free throws. They sank 21 of 22 foul shots and were 12-for-12 from the line through three quarters.
“Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had a team shoot free throws like that,” said Smith, beginning his fourth season at AHS.
Northwest, meanwhile, made just 11 of 21 free throws and committed 20 turnovers, five more than Alton. Hornets’ coach Jones pointed to those factors as reasons his team couldn’t catch the Redbirds.
“My kids played hard for me, but they (Redbirds) made 10 more free throws,” said Jones, pointing to the 9-point final deficit.
The visitors closed to within 49-48 with 6 minutes remaining in the game. Then the Birds went on a 12-2 binge to make it 61-50 with 3 minutes to go. Latham accounted for half of those points.
Charlie James, a 5-10 senior guard, tried to keep the Hornets within striking distance. He tallied a game-best 26 points. Wilshon Warren, a 6-2 sophomore, logged 15 points.
“We had a lot of jitters and were nervous out there because it was our first game,” Jones said.
Smith hopes the Redbirds will pick up their play for a pair of weekend games in the four-team, round-robin tournament that continues Friday night. Alton welcomes Chatham Glenwood at 7:30 p.m., preceding the game between Jacksonville and Northwest at 6 p.m. On Saturday, it’s Chatham Glenwood facing Northwest at 6 p.m. and Alton tangling with Jacksonville at 7:30 p.m.
The team with the best record will be declared the tournament champion. If two teams have the same record, head-to-head competition will determine the champ.
“We need to play the way we have been practicing,” Smith said. “We need to figure things out really quick for our games Friday and Saturday.”
Latham sees improvement as part of the plan.
“We play hard and we’re not selfish,” he said. “We need to do that because we are small.”
Tre Smith, a 6-1 senior, joined Latham as the tallest Redbirds in their starting lineup. Edwards is a 6-0 junior, Caldwell Jr., a 6-0 sophomore and Jordan Golley is a 5-10 senior.
The fifth annual Hall of Fame class, honored at halftime, included basketball player Larry Smith, the 1958-59 basketball team, the 1968 football team, football players Frank Holmes and Larry Ceppenati, former grid coach Ed Yonkus, track runner George “Pee Wee” Hunt, friend of athletics Dave Delawder, baseball/football standout Gary Hagen and basketball/football star Mike Jeffries.
ALTON TIP-OFF CLASSIC
ALTON 70, ST. LOUIS NORTHWEST 61
Northwest 15 17 11 19 – 61
Alton 17 19 13 21 – 70
Northwest (0-1) – Charlie James 26, Jason Watkins 3, Jamarr Williams 10, Wilshon Warren 15, Rayonte Childs 7. 2FG-19 3FG4 FT-11 PF-19
Alton (1-0) – Marcus Latham 21, Kevin Caldwell Jr. 15, Maurice Edwards 15, Tre Smith 6, Damion Reed 7, Ty’ohn Trimble 6. 2FG-17 3FG-5 FT-21 PF-18