GODFREY — The Belleville East Lancers pressured the Alton Redbirds early on Tuesday. The Redbirds panicked. That was the difference in the game.
East held on to defeat Alton 38-31 on Tuesday at AHS. The win improved the Lancers to 7-9 overall and 2-5 in the Southwestern Conference. The Birds slipped to 3-10 and 2-4 on the league slate with the loss.
Alton owned an 8-6 lead with 1:45 to go in the first quarter, but East turned up the heat, pressuring the Redbirds into seven first-quarter turnovers. When the buzzer sounded, the Lancers had reeled off a 7-0 run to go ahead 13-8.
“They came out and they played hard, but not really to be disrespectful to our opponent, we have played against presses,” AHS head coach Bobby Rickman said. “That's why we played at Jefferson City, to play teams that would put pressure on us and have good athletes. We just panicked. We catch the ball and we're already passing it back in ball reversal instead of attacking, getting two drawn us and getting in the right position to reverse it and attack opposite. You've got to be able to be patient and strong against a press and we weren't patient or strong against their press.”
It was a point of emphasis to up the defensive tempo for the Lancers after losing 60-58 in overtime to the Redbirds in Belleville on Dec. 2.
“I like the way we came out to start,” said East head coach Amanda Kemezys. “We leveled off for the rest of the game and I'd like to see our intensity up a little bit, but I was happy to see we came out of the gates ready to go. Our man defense is improving each day.”
The Lancers kept pouring it on to start quarter No. 2, extending its run to 12-0 after a 3-pointer and a bucket by Ellisha Davis.
Alton's LaJarvia Brown broke the scoring streak with a pair of free throws at the 6:29 mark of the second quarter, cutting it to 18-10. AHS' first 10 points all came from leading scorer Brown. She finished with a game-high 19 points.
Kemezys said one of the goals was to contain Brown, which East didn't accomplish.
“Brown was still able to go off on us,” Kemezys said. “She's a heck of a player, holy cow. She's tough to stop and luckily we were able to play good enough defense that we were able to keep that lead and get out of here with a win.”
The Lancers outscored the Redbirds 9-4 the rest of the first half, carrying a 27-16 lead into the locker room.
The second half was better for the Birds though. After a bucket from Davis to start the third quarter, Jewel Wagner responded with a pair of baskets for Alton to get the deficit under 10 points at 29-20. Wagner was the only Redbird player to score besides Brown on the night. She netted 12 points.
Unfortunately, Alton couldn't get the upper hand, tying the Lancers 6-6 in the low-scoring third quarter and still trailing 33-22 entering the final eight minutes.
Rickman was discouraged by multiple missed opportunities around the basket by the Birds. For the game AHS shot just 33 percent (12 of 36).
“We had plenty of opportunities around the basket with shots that we just couldn't make,” Rickman said. “You've got to make those shots. As poorly as we executed against the press, I was disappointed by the fact we weren't able to convert on good shots that we got underneath the basket. I do tribute that in part to their defense. They put pressure on us and when you get that shot you rush it.”
The Redbirds were finally able to win a quarter in the fourth, outscoring East 9-5, but it was too late.
Rickman was pleased to see the better play from his squad, but with Belleville West and Edwardsville next up on the schedule, he knows its going to have to get exorbitantly better.
“I do see some of the improvements we had in the second half,” Rickman said. “Some of the things we did were just turnovers we can't have and they just hurt us too bad. It's one thing to have forced turnovers, but it's another thing to have unforced turnovers you just kind of give them.
“It doesn't get any easier now with Belleville West and then Edwardsville. They're both going to put pressure on us and they're both going to be better at it than this team was.”
BELLEVILLE EAST 38, ALTON 31
East 13 14 6 5 — 38
Alton 8 8 6 9 — 31
Alton (3-10, 2-4) — LaJarvia Brown 19, Jewel Wagner 12. 2PT — 12 3PT — 0 FT — 7 PF — 8
East (7-9, 2-5) — Danielle Hawthorne 6, Ellisha Davis 14, Tamar Mosby 6, Erin Holl 1, Kelsey Smith 5, Morgan St. James 6. 2PT — 13 3PT — 3 FT — 3 PF — 10