EAST ST. LOUIS – The trail to an elusive Southwestern Conference boys’ basketball title just got a lot steeper for the Alton Redbirds.
East St. Louis’ Flyers made that terrain rockier Tuesday.
The host Flyers defeated the Redbirds, 67-58, to sweep them in SWC play and gain a two-game advantage over them in the league. East St. Louis, 12-5 overall, is 7-0 halfway through the conference chase. The Redbirds, rated No. 9 in this week’s Associated Press Class 4A state poll, are 13-3 and 5-2.
“It would have been in our hands if we would have won tonight,” AHS coach Eric Smith said of the Birds’ controlling their destiny in their conference championship pursuit. “But that’s not the way it is now.”
The Flyers own a one-game advantage over O’Fallon, while Edwardsville joins Alton two games behind them.
Nevertheless, East St. Louis coach Tony Young said the Flyers haven’t won anything yet.
“It’s one game at a time,” Young said, after the Flyers played their fourth game the past five nights. “We can’t think about winning the conference or the regional.”
He added, “It’s a huge win and you had two great teams going at each other. It was a game that could have gone either way and we just happened to make a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter.”
The see-saw game featured the Redbirds scooting ahead 51-50 on Bryan Hudson’s dunk with 6:50 remaining. For most of the way, Alton trailed East St. Louis.
And just when it appeared the Birds swung the momentum their way earlier in the fourth quarter, the Flyers went to work. They outscored the Redbirds 13-2 in the next four minutes to build a 63-53 lead and Alton couldn’t catch them.
Karon Randolph ignited the Flyers during their stretch run. He connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to turn a four-point edge into a 10-point bulge.
“We did some good things and Karon hit a couple of big 3-pointers,” Young said.
Smith pointed out, “We didn’t do enough to get a stop when we needed it. We had some lapses and we didn’t do enough of the little things to get over the hump.”
Darrius Edwards scored a game-best 23 points to spur the Redbirds. He netted a dozen of them the first half in keeping Alton within striking distance. The Redbirds led 21-17 after the first quarter, but East St. Louis forged in front 33-29 by the break.
Then Edwards poured in 10 points, including a pair of treys, in the third quarter to get the Redbirds within a point at 50-49. “He scored well for us,” Smith said of Edwards.
After that, It was mostly all Flyers. They limited the Birds to nine fourth-quarter points. Seven turnovers in the final eight minutes and 21 in all hampered AHS.
“They (Flyers) pressure people a little different than a lot of teams we see,” Smith said.
Hudson (12 points), Maurice Edwards (12 points) and Carlos Anderson (11 points) backed Darrius Edwards’ big scoring output. All figured, just four Alton players scored and the Redbirds didn’t get a point from their bench. They are still without starter Isaiah Thurmond, sidelined with a right knee injury.
“We’re really not sure what is wrong with his knee,” Smith said. “We miss him. Isaiah probably has been our most consistent player on both ends of the floor this season.”
Patrick Baxter’s 11 points complemented Randolph’s 19 to boost the Flyers. Jeremiah Tilmon, their 6-foot-11 sophomore center coming off a knee injury, scored only four points.
East St. Louis, though, showed ample balance. The Flyers had eight players score and their bench produced 19 points. The Birds were 23 of 48 from the field and 10-for-20 from the free throw line against the Flyers. East St. Louis made 26 of 55 shots and 10 of 20 free throws.
Come Friday, it’ll be Alton welcoming Edwardsville in another SWC game. The Redbirds open play Saturday in the midstate Washington Team Works Invite. Smith hopes the Redbirds can regain their swagger and start flying high again this weekend.
“Whether it’s leadership or whatever, we don’t have the attitude of junkyard dogs right now,” he said.
EAST ST. LOUIS 67, ALTON 58
Alton 21 8 20 9 –58
East St. Louis 17 16 17 17 – 67
Alton (13-3, 5-2) – Darrius Edwards 23, Carlos Anderson 11, Bryan Hudson 12, Maurice Edwards 12. 2FG-21 3FG-2 FT-10 PF-19
East St. Louis (12-5, 7-0)—Jeremiah Tilmon 4, Antonio Johnson 8, Rayondus Estes 4, Anthony Johnson 6, Tyrone Riley 9, Karon Randolph 19, Marquis Chairs 6, Patrick Baxter 11. 2FG-21 3FG-5 FT-10 PF-16