ALTON — After battling the flu all week, East St. Louis coach Anthony Young wasn't ready for a relapse Tuesday at West Middle School.
The Flyers 53-52 win in a battle of Southwestern Conference heavyweights proved to be the final cure for Young's malady.
Junior forward Terry Beckner scored four of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and the Flyers survived horrendous free throw shooting down the stretch to score the upset win over the Redbirds.
Playing brilliantly on both ends of the floor, East St. Louis (12-4, 4-1) built leads of 30-17 at halftime and 42-32 after three quarters over the short-handed Redbirds, who were playing without junior guard Carlos Anderson. Anderson was out with a hand injury.
But Alton (13-2, 5-1) rallied behind guard Michael Williams-Bay to make it a game. With the 5-foot-10 Williams-Bey scoring seven of his 20 points and East St. Louis missing 14 of 18 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, Alton thrilled the home crowd by rallying.
Williams-Bay's scored on a conventional 3-point play with 10 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one point.
East St Louis then committed its 28th and final turnover with nine seconds left to give Alton one final shot. But when senior De'Antae McMurray missed a running one-hander from the the lane and Williams-Bey missed the tip, it all but ended the Redbrds hopes.
Alton had one final shot with no time remaining, but a desperation length of the court attempt fell well short.
"Free throws. We work on them all the time in practice. All the time. But when we get in games we struggle at the line," Young said. "We played great basketball fr three quarters and even in the fourth quarter we didn't play poorly. We just didn't make the free throws.
"This is a big win for us. But every win is a big win in this conference. We did what we needed to do in order to win tonight. Now we'll move on. That's the way we approach it.''
Moved from Alton High School to West Middle School because of a water leak on the Redbirds' court, the game was played under a playoff atmosphere between two of the top teams in the metro-east. Alton entered the game ranked eighth in the most recent Class 4A state poll.
But for most of the first 3 1/2 quarters, it was the Flyers who controlled the game.
With the 6-5, 270-pound Beckner controlling inside and guards Dominque Nelson and Justin Smith playing well on the perimeter, the Flyers held a double-digit lead for most of the night.
But Alton refused to go away.
"We got outrebounded, they were more physical and we won very few of the 50-50 balls. Yet with 10 seconds left in the game we're down by one point and we have the ball," Alton coach Eric Smith said. "We dug ourselves a big hole early and it took a lot of energy for us to get back in the game."
Contract reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com