EDWARDSVILLE — Playing in front of a crowd of roughly 2,400 at Lucco-Jackson Gymnasium Friday the Alton Redbirds floundered late, losing to the host Edwardsville Tigers 64-47 in Southwestern Conference action.
The loss dropped Alton to 8-6 overall on the season and 5-2 in the SWC, two games behind the league-leading Tigers. EHS improved to 13-3 and 7-0 with the victory.
“We didn't shoot the ball very well in the first half, but I thought we competed,” AHS head coach Eric Smith said. “We did some nice stuff and then coming out after halftime it just got away.”
Edwardsville head coach Mike Waldo thought the Tigers did some nice thing against the speedy, pressuring defense of the Redbirds. They handled the quickness well.
“I thought we did a good job playing against their pressure and they're good at it,” Waldo said. “They've had a lot of success with that and I thought our guys did a good job of making the right passes and keeping some good spacing. I thought Sammy Green did a good job tonight playing off the bench and I think us handling the ball well and limiting our turnovers was a big part of the game.”
The game began with a seesaw battle. Alton's Marcus Latham knotted it at 8-8 at the 3:01 mark of the first quarter with a basket, but a traditional 3-point play by Mark Smith put EHS ahead 11-8 with 2:42 to go in the frame.
Oliver Stephen had the Tigers in front 14-10 after hitting a 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining. As EHS moved the ball looking for the last shot in the waning seconds, Ty'ohn Trimble of the Birds picked up a steal and raced in for a layup, slicing it to 14-12 as time expired.
Edwardsville was able to build a 21-13 advantage at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter, but Alton responded with an 8-0 run to tie it at 21-21. Latham, Maurice Edwards and Tre Smith all scored on the spree.
A bucket by Edwardsville's 6-foot-5 center A.J. Epenesa at the 1:56 mark of the second quarter catapulted EHS back on top 23-21 and that's how it stayed entering the break.
“The plan was to get to the paint and I thought we really, really did that, but it was physical in there tonight,” Smith said of penetrating against Edwardsville's size.
Tacking onto Epenesa's basket, the Tigers constructed an 8-0 spurt to push their lead to 29-21 at the 4:54 mark of the third quarter. Alton scratched back though, dwindling it to 33-30 with 2:54 left in the stanza, but that was as close as the Birds were able to get the rest of the way.
EHS' Chrys Colley made it 35-30 and then with 1:27 to go in the quarter Edwards was whistled for a technical foul. Stephen hit both free throws and then a 3-pointer as the Tigers retained possession. A nifty layup at the buzzer by Epenesa left Edwardsville in front 42-30 entering the fourth quarter, enjoying a 9-0 run to close out the third.
After the technical it seemed to come unraveled for the Redbirds. Smith thought the intensity of the rivalry and the electricity of the crowd just got the Birds caught up in the moment.
“For our kids and our community this game means something,” Smith said. “When things don't start going your way you do one of two things, you dig your heels in and begin to fight your way out of it, or you let your frustrations come out. I thought as a group we kind of let our frustrations out, which was a little uncharacteristic.”
Epenesa scored a bucket to extend the run to 11-0 at the 7:35 mark of the fourth quarter, propelling Edwardsville in front 44-30. AHS never shaved the deficit below 10 points the rest of the way.
No Redbirds reached double figures on Friday, although eight different players contributed to the scoring. Jordan Golley and Edwards netted 9 apiece, while Kevin Caldwell, Jr. and Paul Harris punched in 8 each.
“Their approach was to dare us into shooting and I think we did a nice job with that where we didn't give in,” Smith said. “But it was physical inside.”
Edwardsville saw four players reach double digits in the offense, led by Stephen's 15 points. Epenesa produced 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Colley had 13 and Smith scored 10.
The win allowed EHS to close the first half of the SWC docket undefeated, but Waldo was quick to point out there is a long way to go to claim league supremacy.
“It's a competitive world,” Waldo said. “The league is very good and it's hard to win games. Everybody you play is a good team, well coached, has players, so going through the conference first time around and winning them is good, but we've got a long, long way to go. We've just got to keep trying to improve and get better because the other teams will.”
Alton is now idle until 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 when it faces St. Mary's at the Cardinal Ritter Classic in St. Louis.
EDWARDSVILLE 64, ALTON 47
Redbirds 12 9 9 17 — 47
Tigers 14 9 19 22 — 64
Edwardsville (13-3, 7-0) — Mark Smith 10, Chrys Colley 13, Oliver Stephen 15, A.J. Epenesa 14, Caleb Strohmeier 8, Sammy Green 4. 2PT — 23 3PT — 3 FT — 9 PF — 16.
Alton (8-6, 5-2) — Marcus Latham 4, Jordan Golley 9, Tre Smith 5, Kevin Caldwell, Jr. 8, Maurice Edwards 9, Paul Harris 8, Ty'ohn Trimble 2, Kenneth Burnett 2. 2PT — 16 3PT — 3 FT — 6 PF — 13.