PEORIA — One of the most talented teams in school history, the Edwardsville Tigers ended the season in dramatic style as only they could Saturday at Carver Arena.
Armon Fletcher made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining as Edwardsville overcame 25 turnovers to defeat (Maywood) Proviso East 57-56 in the third-place game of the Class 4A State Tournament.
Trailing 56-55 following a short jumper by Pirates senior Parrish McCullum with 23 seconds remaining, the Tigers got the ball to Fletcher, who was fouled going to the basket. Fletcher sank both free throws to give his team a one-point lead.
Forsaking a time-out, Proviso East hurried down the floor where senior guard Brandon Jenkins drove the baseline and missed a shot with two seconds remaining. McCullum grabbed the rebound, but his potential game-winning shot came after the final horn had sounded, giving the Tigers (31-3) the win.
"With the support of my teammates and practice. We practiced them all year,'' Fletcher said when asked about the winning free throws. "I'm just glad I was able to make them."
The third-place trophy is the third in school history for Edwardsville and first since 1956, when it placed second. The Tigers also placed fourth in the 1954 state tournament.
The top-three effort also is the first for Edwardsville in four state tournament appearances under coach Mike Waldo, who had a look of relief following the victory.
"I thought we played one of our best games of the season," Waldo said. "And we needed to because Proviso East is an excellent team."
Coming off a disappointing loss to Lincolnshire Stevenson in the semifinals, Edwardsville came out of the gate red-hot.
Getting four early points from Fletcher and six from senior Garret Covington, Edwardsville was 8-of-10 from the floor in the first quarter. But it led only 21-16 as Proviso East's Sterling Brown, a Southern Methodist University recruit, nailed a pair of long jumpers for the Pirates.
The Tigers then expanded their lead in the second quarter when they hit their first four shots. Covington scored twice, Shawn Roundtree scored on a strong inside move and when senior Drew Curtis sank a 3-pointer, Edwardsville's lead was 28-20 with 6:36 left in the opening half.
But once again the Pirates responded, clawing to within 35-32 late in the second quarter on a basket by Kalin Fisher.
Fletcher came back with a dunk with 13 seconds left and Edwardsville led 37-32.
Curtis said he and his teammates regrouped after the loss to Stevenson.
"We didn't want to end our season with two losses," Curtis said. "We were able to come back after the loss, prepare and came out and played very well."
What kept the Pirates (29-5) close was Brown (16 points), Jenkins (14) and their pressure defense, which caused Edwardsville to commit 25 turnovers.
"I honestly thought we did a good job against their pressure,'' Waldo said. "I know we had a lot of turnovers, but we were also able to get some good looks off of it too. You give a little and you get a little."
Tre' Harris paced Edwardsville with 20 points, while Covington added 15. Fletcher and Curtis chipped in with nine points apiece.
The loss was a tough one to take for Pirates coach Donnie Boyce. A former Pirate great as a player, Boyce was very emotional following the loss.
"I want to say that we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for these four seniors," Boyce said. "We struggled early in the season, but these kids kept battling and they came back and gave us a great effort. We came here to win a state championship, not play for third place."