EDWARDSVILLE — Granite City missed a layup, Alton hit a three. It wasn't the deciding factor, but it was a pretty telling series of events in AHS' 59-44 win over the Warriors in Tuesday's Class 4A Edwardsville Regional semifinal showdown.
GCHS finished up the season at 11-17, while the Redbirds improved to 25-4 and will battle Edwardsville at 7 p.m. Friday at Lucco-Jackson Gymnasium. The Tigers defeated Quincy 53-49 in the nightcap Tuesday in Edwardsville to set up Friday's regional final.
Granite City didn't go away quietly against the Birds. With 3:10 to play in the third quarter Traron Allen cut it to 29-25 with a bucket, but the telling moment came on GCHS' next possession when Allen grabbed a loose ball and was unable to score an easy basket around the rim. Alton answered at the other end with sophomore Maurice Edwards burying a 3-pointer to transform what could have been a two-point game into a seven-point affair at 32-25 with 1:34 to play in the quarter.
The Warriors never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
“There was a point in the third quarter where we had a fluke play where (Allen) got a loose ball rebound and found himself there by himself and if we make that layup we cut it to two,” GCHS head coach Steve Roustio said. “Every possession matters, because maybe the next possession we get a stop and run a special for Kenny (Berry) and he knocks down a three and we take the lead for the first time in the game. You don't know what would have happened as a result of making that shot. We didn't and I'm not saying that lost the game for us, that would be ridiculous for me to say that. I'm just saying that sticks out.”
Alton head coach Eric Smith recognized the spark it put into the Redbirds with the miss and then Maurice Edwards' ensuing trey. It was a spark in a game that didn't include many of them.
Smith knew Granite City would provide a challenge for his Birds.
“Like I said, that's not a bad basketball team,” Smith said. “They're competitive and they've got kids that can shoot it, which always gives you a chance.”
Maurice Edwards, who scored 15 points and was one of four Redbirds to reach double figures on Tuesday, thought foul trouble and bad free throw shooting contributed to the early woes.
“I think nerves are still settling in with the free throws and we had some foul trouble with Darrius (Edwards), that kind of hurt us a little bit,” Maurice Edwards said. “We started off slow, but I don't think it really effected us too bad. We were still able to rebound. Bryan (Hudson) and Carlos (Anderson) did a good job rebounding.”
Bryan Hudson finished with a game-high 16 points, something Roustio pointed to as a key to Alton's win. Hudson only had a combined 17 points in two previous games against the Warriors in '14-15.
“This was by far the best game Hudson's had against us probably in two years,” Roustio said. “He just showed a little bit of hunger out there tonight. When he missed a shot he didn't give up on it, he followed it, got a rebound and I don't know how many times that happened, two or three times.”
Hudson netted eight of his game-high 16 in the first quarter. After Kenny Berry hit a jumper to give Granite City a 2-0 lead, Hudson answered with a rebound and a put back to tie it at 2-2.
When Hudson threw down a dunk on a pass from teammate Carlos Anderson with 1:03 to go in the first quarter, the Redbirds owned an 11-4 lead, despite just shooting 5 of 13 as a team. GCHS helped the situation going just 1 of 8 from the field in the first quarter.
But the Warriors matched Alton over the next two quarters, tying them 14-14 in the second quarter to trail just 25-18 at the half. The two teams matched each other at 8-8 in the third quarter with AHS holding on to a 34-27 advantage entering the final eight minutes.
“They're good and they have kids that can play,” Smith said. “Once they figure out how to win, our thought process is thank God the season isn't another month long because over the last month they've been competing with everybody, they just haven't found a way to win a couple of those games. If they did I feel like they would have gotten on a roll. I'm just glad they didn't figure it out tonight.”
Luckily in the fourth quarter the Redbirds began to figure themselves out. They were 8 of 8 from the field and 9 of 13 from the charity stripe, turning a dreadful 9 of 21 free throw shooting through three quarters into a somewhat respectable 18 of 34 for the game.
Darrius Edwards, 13 points, and Carlos Anderson, 10 points, joined Maurice Edwards and Hudson in double figures.
Smith is certain Alton will be ready when it now looks to beat Edwardsville for the third time this season. The Birds prevailed 63-52 and 65-32 in two previous meetings with EHS.
“We'll be alright,” Smith said. “We've got a competitive bunch of kids, so we'll be alright.”
Maurice Edwards added, “Our free throws need to be better for sure, but I just think we need to be prepared and focused on what we need to do. We beat (Edwardsville) twice already and I think we already know what we need to do.”
The Warriors wrapped up their season with 11 wins, nine more than they had a season ago. Roustio thought senior D.J. Miller, who poured in a team-high 14 points Tuesday, was a major influence on the better play. Berry, a junior, joined Miller in double figures with 12 points Tuesday.
“One of the reasons (for improvement) was the return of D.J. Miller,” Roustio said. “He started with four seniors two years ago as a sophomore, then he was hurt and didn't play last year and he signed to play some SEC baseball at Ole Miss and he could have taken the route of, 'I'm going to work on my baseball all winter.' But he chose to play with his buddies and it ended up helping us win a couple invitational tournaments this year. We got 11 wins and got some wins against some pretty quality teams, Decatur MacArthur, Riverview Gardens, we got a conference win this year, we beat Highland who won the MVC and there were so many games that were so tight it could have went either way.”
CLASS 4A EDWARDSVILLE REGIONAL
ALTON 59, GRANITE CITY 44
Granite City 4 14 9 17 — 44
Alton 11 14 9 25 — 59
ALTON (25-4) — Darrius Edwards 13, Carlos Anderson 10, Bryan Hudson 16, Isaiah Thurmond 2, Maurice Edwards 15, Nigel Harris 1, Demonte' Wigfall 1, Josh Lovings 1. 2FG — 19 3FG — 1 FT — 18 PF — 16
GRANITE CITY (11-17) — Traron Allen 8, Kenny Berry 12, D.J. Miller 14, Deontonio Jennings 6, Jalen Banks 2, Darrion Flemons 2. 2FG — 13 3FG — 1 FT — 12 PF — 22