O’FALLON – Just when it appeared the Alton Redbirds were going to let a win slip away Tuesday, they regained their footing and composure.
The Birds battled back to defeat O’Fallon, 61-53, in a key early-season Southwestern Conference boys’ basketball game at the Panther Dome. Alton improved to 5-1 and 1-1. O’Fallon is 3-4 and 1-1.
“We had a tough loss (59-58) to East St. Louis last Friday. It was kind of hard on us,” AHS sophomore Maurice Edwards said. “So we wanted to make sure we finished this one off the right way.”
Edwards helped put the final touches on the hard-earned road victory. He scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Redbirds overturned a 36-35 third quarter deficit.
“This game was sort of redemption for us,” teammate Carlos Anderson said. “We didn’t want to start 0-2 in the conference.”
Anderson pitched in with 12 points, while Bryan Hudson contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds. Darrius Edwards added 14 points, nine the first half as Alton built a 31-20 lead. The Redbirds owned a 14-point advantage at one point, but an underwhelming third quarter nearly cost them.
They made only 1 of 9 shots and 2 of 10 free throws in a four-point quarter. And the Redbirds survived despite making just 14 of 31 free throws overall.
“Whatever the reason is, we need to play a full game,” AHS coach Eric Smith said, referring to the Birds’ inconsistency. “We have some resilient kids, but we need to have more concentration and focus.
“Sometimes, we get too tentative. We have to figure it out.”
O’Fallon coach Rick Gibson figured the Panthers were on the move when they surged in front 41-37 with 6:45 to play. Yet the Redbirds responded by knotting the score at 46 with 4:50 remaining.
Anderson then put the Birds back on top with a dunk. He added a 3-pointer to cap a seven-point burst and Alton led 53-46. O’Fallon got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
“We dug ourselves a hole early in the game and then came back and played really well in the third quarter,” Gibson said. “But it takes more than one quarter to beat a team like that. Alton really has a good team and we let up a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
Maurice Edwards, Darrius Edwards, Hudson and Anderson combined for 55 points, causing the Panthers’ defense multiple problems.
“You can’t just guard one guy,” Gibson said. You can’t key on one guy.”
Donovan Franklin, a 6-5 senior, kept the Panthers within striking distance. He scored a team-best 15 points, 10 in the second half. Teammate Darien McClain chipped in with 12 points on four 3-pointers.
The Panthers made 20 of 51 shots and 6 of 8 free throws. The Redbirds sank 21 of 45 shots, going 20-for-36 outside of their frigid third quarter.
“It’s a big win for us because we want to be able to control our own destiny in the conference,” Smith said. “If we would have gone to 0-2, I don’t feel we could have done that.”
Anderson said, “A road win is great for us and we needed it. We thought that East St. Louis game was one that got away from us. We still need to stay away from getting too comfortable when we get a lead. We have to stay on the gas pedal.”
Edwards senses the Redbirds will learn how to finish things properly.
“I see good things from this team,” he said. “We need to do the little things, we need to play together and not get down on ourselves.”
ALTON 61, O’FALLON 53
Alton 14 17 4 26 – 61
O’Fallon 5 15 16 17 – 53
Alton (5-1, 1-1) – D. Edwards 14, Anderson 12, Hudson 12, Thurmond 2, M. Edwards 17, Lovings 2, Wigfall 2. 2FG-16 3FG-5 FT-14 PF-16
O’Fallon (3-4, 1-1) – Franklin 15, Armstrong 7, McClain 12, Wegner 4, Cokenour 6, Harrison 5, Orr 4. 2FG-13 3FG-7 FT-6 PF-24