GODFREY — It was a tale of two halves on Friday at Alton High School. Luckily for the Alton Redbirds they had the last laugh.
AHS defeated the Edwardsville Tigers 63-52 in Southwestern Conference action, erasing a 28-22 deficit at the half. The Birds outscored the Tigers 41-24 in the second half, while forcing EHS into 17 second-half turnovers. Edwardsville had 22 for the game.
Alton improved to 14-3 overall and 5-2 in the SWC with the win. EHS slipped to 9-7 and 4-3 with the loss.
“It was a big win and it was challenging with me coming out with two fouls early,” said AHS senior Carlos Anderson, who paced the Redbirds with 18 points. “We faced a lot of adversity and that's where we find out where we are as a team when adversity hits. I've been through it for four years now, so I just have to share it with (the team) and show them how to handle all of it.”
Part of that adversity was not beginning the game with sophomore Maurice Edwards. The sensational sophomore was sidelined with a deep thigh bruise, but saw his first action in the third quarter.
His addition to the lineup sparked the Birds and he admitted once on the court his adrenaline nullified the pain in his thigh.
“It pretty much went away,” Edwards said. “I didn't feel it too much when I was playing. It slowed me down a little bit, but it didn't really effect me. They put me in and I did what I needed to do.”
Anderson said Edwards' abilities with the basketball bring another dimension to the Redbirds and is what helped recharge them Friday.
“Maurice is a point guard and a shooting guard at the same time, so at the same time he can run our offense and score when we need him to score,” Anderson said. “The ball is always in his hands and he creates mismatches for us so he became a reinforcement for us and gave us a spark.”
Anderson's second-half play was a major spark, too. The SIUE recruit was relegated to the bench late in the first quarter and remained there through the second frame due to drawing two quick fouls.
After only scoring two points in the opening half, he erupted for 16 in the second half.
“He just makes a bunch of extra plays for us,” AHS head coach Eric Smith said of Anderson. “He rebounds and he made some shots. He's been struggling a little bit from the field, but he continues to give us energy and tonight he gave us energy and points, so it's a win win for us.”
Anderson's basket at 3:05 of the third quarter gave Alton a 34-33 lead, its first advantage since leading 2-0. Edwardsville responded though with a pair of free throws and a trey from Mark Smith to leap back on top 38-34. Smith led all scorers in the game with 19 points.
But the Redbirds responded quickly. A pair of free throws and a bucket from Anderson knotted it at 38-38 with 1:31 to go in the third, but it was Edwards putting the final touches on the quarter.
With 2.1 seconds left on the clock, Edwards drove to the basket and put up an acrobatic layup off the glass to put Alton up 40-38. The Birds never fell behind again.
Pressure defense forced Edwardsville into nine third-quarter turnovers. EHS head coach Mike Waldo admitted Alton's athleticism is hard to play against.
“I think you've got give Alton credit, they did a lot of things well,” Waldo said. “They know what they're doing and they have good athletes. I thought we had a good chance of winning the game. I'm really not displeased with the way we played. I thought we executed and did a lot of things well and I just think they're hard to play against.”
And while AHS had limited action for Edwards, EHS was without one of their starters for the entire game. Dan Marinko, the star quarterback for the football team and a starter for Waldo on the basketball team, was off on a college visit and unavailable. Waldo thought that played a factor.
“Any organization that doesn't have Dan Marinko is going to be hurting because Dan Marinko is a one percenter,” Waldo said. “He's a winner. I'm not a football coach, but Moto (Tom Pile) says, 'If you're a coach you're a coach. It doesn't matter if it's football or titiley winks.' So I'm a coach and if I was a football coach I'd want Dan Marinko in a heartbeat. I think he's one of the greatest athletes in Edwardsville history, so we did miss Dan, but I thought our guys battled well.”
Alton took the momentum from the end of the third quarter and kept rolling. AHS turned the 6-0 run to end the third into a 12-0 run to take a commanding 46-38 lead behind another Anderson basket and a pair of scores by Darrius Edwards.
Edwardsville would get as close as six points, but could never climb any closer.
It was completely different than the first half when the Tigers dictated the tempo of the game, forcing the Redbirds to shoot from outside the arc more than they'd prefer. Alton was just 1 of 11 from 3-point land in the first half. The Birds only shot two 3s in the second half.
Eric Smith told his team adjustments were crucial if they wanted to win the game.
“We told them if we shot more than two or three 3s in the second half we were going to lose,” Smith said.
Darrius Edwards joined Anderson in double figures for Alton with 14 points. Kyler Davis scored 11 for Edwardsville to join Mark Smith in double digits, while Oliver Stephen and A.J. Epenesa scored nine apiece for the Tigers.
ALTON 63, EDWARDSVILLE 52
AHS 8 14 18 23 — 63
EHS 11 17 10 14 — 52
ALTON (14-3, 5-2) — Darrius Edwards 14, Carlos Anderson 18, Nigel Harris 5, Lavonte Hobbs 6, Bryan Hudson 6, Josh Lovings 5, Demonte Wigfall 5, Maurice Edwards 4. 2FG — 22 3FG — 1 FT — 15 PF — 20
EDWARDSVILLE (9-7, 4-3) — Kyler Davis 11, Mark Smith 19, Oliver Stephen 9, Jordan Harris 2, A.J. Epenesa 9, Ryan Pacatte 2. 2FG — 7 3FG — 8 FT — 14 PF — 21