Photo by Caleb Motsinger
Alton’s Lavonte Hobbs launches a three-point shot in the fourth quarter of the Redbird’s Friday night victory over the Edwardsville Tigers 59-56.
EDWARDSVILLE – Alton’s Redbirds have thrust their way back into the hunt for the Southwestern Conference boys’ basketball championship.
All it took was their most rewarding victory of the season Friday.
The Redbirds overtook SWC leader Edwardsville, 59-56, before 2,500 fans at Lucco-Gymnasium and erased an 18-point deficit to achieve it. Alton carried a 13-2 record into the Washington Tournament that ended Monday.
“It’s out biggest win. We worked as a team,” AHS forward Darrius Edwards said after the thriller in Edwardsville. He tallied 15 points and was one of four Redbirds to score in double figures.
Most important, the Redbirds are 6-1 in the SWC and tied at the top of it. They resume conference competition Jan. 31 against Granite City. Edwardsville is 13-1 and 5-1. East St. Louis, which shaded Alton 53-52 last week, also has one league loss. The Flyers still have two games remaining with Edwardsville.
“We bounced back after the game against East St. Louis and got a big win,” jubilant AHS guard D’Antae McMurray said after the Edwardsville game. He stirred the Redbirds, scoring a team-best 19 points, including 10 in the decisive fourth quarter.
“I was able to put the team on my back and help lead them to a victory,” McMurray said. “We got some great stops on defense in the second half and had the confidence to win it.”
Second-year Alton coach Eric Smith sensed the Redbirds would make a run at the Tigers, even after the Birds trailed 37-19 in the second quarter. Edwardsville led 39-24 at half, yet Alton refused to buckle.
“At no point did I feel like we were out of the game,” Smith said. “We’ve battled back in a lot of games this season, including the ones against Centralia and East St. Louis.”
Yet this finish produced a winner. The Redbirds used a 10-2 spurt late in the third quarter to close to 46-42 with eight minutes to play. When Edwardsville’s 6-foot-5 Armon Fletcher fouled out with 4:46 remaining and McMurray followed that with a 3-pointer, Alton trailed only 53-50 with 4:30 to go.
McMurray hit another key trey with 2:25 remaining as the Birds closed to 55-53. Edwards contributed a key rebound basket with 43 seconds left to put Alton in front 57-56. It was the first time the Redbirds led since early in the game.
The Tigers couldn’t score in the final minute and McMurray sank two free throws to ensure the win. Michael Williams-Bey and Bryan Hudson both pitched in 10 points to spark the Birds. Both scored six points in the third quarter.
Edwards said the Redbirds’ lockdown guarding turned the momentum their way. Edwardsville made 14 of 23 shots the first half, then went 4 of 11 the second half and had 11 turnovers in scoring a mere 17 points.
“Our defense brought us back,” Edwards said. “When we came out in the second half, we knew we were going to get back in the game.”
McMurray said, “This game gave us our confidence back.”
Guards Shawn Roundtree (19 points) and Trevor Clay (15 points) spurred the Tigers, while Fletcher netted 16 points. Clay scored all of his points the first half and didn’t take a shot the second half. Roundtree converted five free throws in the second half, but no baskets.
“We have depth and that made a difference,” Smith said. “Roundtree is hard to handle and he was ton, but we played with more defensively intensity the second half. And D’tae really came through for us in a lot of different ways.”
Smith added, “It’s a big game for us because we couldn’t afford to lose it if we want to win the conference championship. And that’s our goal. We want to win it outright.”
The Redbirds haven’t been undisputed conference champs since 1979-80, though they have shared titles since then.
Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo credited the Redbirds with making a strong comeback.
“Alton has a lot of good players, they are hard to guard and they made some big shots,” he said. “They also trapped the ball a little more in the second half. We had several chances in the second half to increase our lead, but we ended up not getting points.”
ALTON 59, EDWARDSVILLE 56
Alton 9 15 18 17 – 59
Edwardsville 19 20 7 10 – 56
Alton (13-2, 6-1) – Williams-Bey 10, McMurray 19, Edwards 15, Hudson 10, Wigfall 2, Perry 1, Hobbs 1, Young 1. 2FG-18 3FG-4 FT-11 PF-23
Edwardsville (13-1, 5-1) – Clay 15, Fletcher 16, Roundtree 19, Crochrell 5, Brown 1. 2FG-15 3FG-3 FT-17 PF-19