NORMAL — After shooting poorly in a super-sectional loss to Bloom Township last season, the Edwardsville Tigers were more than prepared for another trip to Illinois State University's Redbird Arena.
Edwardsville earned its first state finals trip since 2006 on Tuesday with a crushing 68-49 Class 4A super-sectional victory over Marian Catholic as senior Garret Covington led the way with 25 points.
"It feels good, we finally did it," Covington said. "Last year we fell short. We've been working hard all season for this. We've put so much work into it and to see it pay off means a lot."
The Tigers (30-2) will face Stevenson (28-4) in an 8:15 p.m. semifinal game Friday at the Class 4A state finals in Peoria. This will be the Tigers' fourth state tournament appearance under coach Mike Waldo and first since 2006.
Edwardsville has never won a state basketball championship, but the Tigers finished second in 1956 and fourth in 1954.
In the same playoff spot a year ago at ISU, Edwardsville missed 14 of its first 15 3-point shots and was 7-for-26 fro beyond the arc in a 53-41 super-sectional loss to Bloom Township.
This time the Tigers made themselves right at home at Redbird Arena, firing in 67.6 percent of their shots (23-of-34) and five of their 10 3-point tries.
Covington, a Western Illinois recruit, hit eight of his 12 shots, while senior Tre' Harris drained six of his eight to score 13 points. Armon Fletcher added another 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Edwardsville also out-rebounded Marian Catholic 31-16 and forced the Spartans into an 0-for-11 shooting night from 3-point range. Marian Catholic got as close as nine points briefly in the third quarter, but had no answer for the Tigers' deadly offensive attack.
"We were determined, that was our motivation to come here again and get a step above where we were last year," said Edwardsville junior point guard Shawn Roundtree, who had 10 points and six assists. "It's not over yet, we've got more work to do."
Edwardsville has crushed its two latest playoff victims, hammering Rock Island 71-45 in the Pekin Sectional final before tacking on another lopsided win on Tuesday.
"It takes a lot of practice to get a score like this up here," Covington said of Tuesday's victory.
Edwardsville players and Waldo each pointed to the extensive preparation and practice that they put into each game.
"There's never been an easy win," Waldo said. "We might have won by a lot of points, but our guys really worked hard to play well, preparing and practicing."
The game was tied at 13 before the Tigers opened up some breathing room, outscoring the Spartans 12-2 in the second quarter to secure a 23-13 halftime lead.
Covington had a pair of 3-pointers to finish the first half with 11 points as the Tigers hit nine of their first 12 shots.
Highly touted Marian Catholic junior point guard Tyler Ulis was held to four points in the first half as Marian Catholic was unable to crack the Edwardsville zone defense.
Ulis finally worked himself free for 10 points in the third quarter and finished with 14, but the Division I prospect had to work hard for everything he got.
"He's a good player," Waldo said. "We did a good job of limiting his opportunities. I know he made some points in the second half, but I though defensively we did a very good job on (him)."
Harris and Fletcher are both 6-foot-5 and were very effective at the top of the Edwardsville zone defense, with the 5-8 Ulis having trouble poking holes in the perimeter.
That zone defense limited Marian Catholic to one shot on most possessions as well as a 6-for-21 shooting performance in the first half.
"He's a good player, smart on defense and can handle the ball," Roundtree said of Ulis, who already has a slew of major Division I scholarship offers as a junior. "Coming into the game I've just got to be confident, I can do the same thing. But hats off to him, he did a good job carrying his team throughout the game. They're a tough team, it wasn't easy for us tonight."
Edwardsville began to pull away soon after halftime, stretching its lead to 30-18 and then 41-25 on three consecutive baskets by Fletcher.
Other than the 20 point by Ulis, the next-highest scorer for Marian Catholic was Ki-Jana Crawford with nine points.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were putting on an offensive clinic in working the ball patiently for open shots. Time and time again they got layups and wide-open threes to shred the Spartans' defense.
"Offensively we did a lot of things execution-wise that got us some open shots," Waldo said.