CENTRALIA – Once the Alton Redbirds got rolling Wednesday in the semifinals of the 72nd annual Centralia Holiday Basketball Tournament, there was no stopping them.
They took command of things in the second quarter and sailed past Southwestern Conference rival O’Fallon, 72-54. And by defeating the Panthers for the second time in December, the 11-1 Redbirds reached the tourney championship again.
Alton, runner-up to host Centralia in 2013, faces the host Orphans late Wednesday night for the title. It marks the fifth time in 10 years that the Birds have played for the tournament championship. They finished first in 2004 and 2006. Overall, AHS has captured 13 tourney trophies here since 1996.
“It would mean a lot to us to win the tournament championship,” Redbirds’ sophomore Maurice Edwards said. “It’ll be a big statement for us.”
Edwards and teammate Bryan Hudson made major statements in Alton’s win over 7-5 O’Fallon. The Redbirds also defeated the Panthers 61-53 on Dec. 9 in a SWC game at O’Fallon.
This time, the 6-foot-7 Hudson scored a career-best 21 points and collected nine rebounds. Edwards pitched in 16 points and seven rebounds. Darrius Edwards (11 points and six rebounds) and Carlos Anderson (11 points and five steals) also contributed to the cause as the Birds out rebounded the Panthers 38-21.
“We’ve taken some big steps up and come together as a team,” Hudson said. The Redbirds, winners of seven in succession, are 3-0 here and averaging more than 79 points per game.
AHS coach Eric Smith pointed to the big footprint the Redbirds put on the Panthers in the second quarter. Alton trailed O’Fallon 15-8 after the opening quarter, then outscored them 30-14 in the second one. The Birds made 11 of 13 shots and didn’t commit a turnover during that eight-minute blitz.
“What turned the game today wasn’t a fancy play or a lob on a dunk,” Smith said. “We started grinding it down, got after them (Panthers) in the second quarter and turned up our intensity. We started guarding people and that made a difference.”
Maurice Edwards added, “We started off slow in the game, but then we went after them with our defense. We’ve been playing good defense and playing as a team.”
Hudson noted, “We came out a little lazy and then turned it up.”
O’Fallon coach Rick Gibson said the Redbirds switched gears after the Panthers scooted ahead in building a first quarter lead.
“They turned things up and our defense wasn’t there in the second quarter,” he said. “We told our players that Alton is like Chicago Bogan and that if they smell blood, they will be coming at you.
“Alton has a complete team.”
Hudson and Maurice Edwards teamed for 19 points in that decisive second quarter. The Redbirds, who made 29 of 64 shots overall, led 58-46 after three quarters and once stretched their advantage to 20 points midway through the fourth quarter.
“Bryan worked hard for what he got and Isaiah Thurmond really did a good job of guarding (Donovan) Franklin,” Smith said.
Franklin, the Panthers’ top gun, scored a team-best 14 points, but wasn’t that much of a factor. He tallied 27 points Tuesday, when O’Fallon upset top-seeded Bogan, 62-58.
Chance Armstrong collected 10 points and eight rebounds for O’Fallon, which played Champaign Central for third place. Centralia edged Champaign Central, 49-41, in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
The fifth place finale, the consolation championship and third-place contest precede the championship game scheduled at 9 p.m.
ALTON 74, O’FALLON 56
O’Fallon 15 14 17 10 – 56
Alton 8 30 20 16 – 74
O’Fallon (7-5) – Donovan Franklin 14, Chance Armstrong 10, Caleb Wegner 9, Parker Roustio 8, Nathan Cokenour 7, Darien McClain 4, Bradley Harrison 2, Alex Orr 2. 2FG-21 3FG-3 FT-5 PF-15
Alton (11-1) – Bryan Hudson 21, Maurice Edwards 16, Carlos Anderson 11, Darrius Edwards 11, Nigel Harris 7, Isaiah Thurmond 5, Lavonte Hobbs 2, Demonte Wigfall 1. 2FG-27 3FG-2 FT-14 PF-13