EDWARDSVILLE — Pushed to the limit for the second time in a month, the Edwardsville Tigers refused to wilt Thursday in their latest epic battle with Belleville West.
Senior Aaliyah Covington scored seven of her 21 points and made three of four free throws in overtime as the Tigers moved another step closer to another Southwestern Conference title with a 48-44 win.
Covington broke a 44-all tie with 1:11 left when she hit one of two free throws. Following a missed shot by the Maroons' Shay Fluker with 35 seconds left, the 5-foot, 11-inch Covington sank two free throws with 14.4 seconds remaining to increase the lead to 47-44.
West junior Imani Berry, whose two free throws at the end of regulation sent the game into overtime, then missed a 3-point attempt to all but end the Maroons' upset hopes.
"We know them and they know us. It was another game of strengths and weaknesses and we somehow keep squeaking them out. I thought we made some big plays in the end,'' Tigers coach Lori Blade said. "We did a good job on the boards late in the game and got some key putbacks. But we moved a little better in the last five minutes.
"The more you move the harder you are to keep off the boards.''
The win is the 70th straight in SWC play for the Tigers (19-1, 9-0) and all but wrapped up a fifth straight undefeated conference season.
The loss was another tough one for the Maroons (5-3, 14-6).
Beaten 43-41 by Edwardsville earlier in the season when all-stater Kortney Dunbar hit a 3-pointer in the final two seconds, West rallied from a seven-point deficit in the third quarter and had one of Southern Illinois' top teams on the ropes again.
But for the second time, coach Clayton Fisher's team came up short.
"They're the champions and like against Central we just can't seem to get over the hump against them,'' Fisher said. "But I'm very proud of the girls. We executed the game plan to perfection and I thought our offensive execution was as good as it has been in three years.
"We just gave up some offensive rebounds and let them get around us a couple of times down the stretch and it cost us.''
Both teams struggled offensively in the first two quarters as Edwardsville took a 15-13 lead into halftime.
Covington, headed to St. Louis University, combined with freshman Cristeon Waters for 11 points in the third quarter as Edwardsville took a 28-23 lead.
Berry, who scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, tallied seven points in the third period to keep West close.
Fluker then took over for West in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her 12 points.
The 5-9 Berry tied the game at 39 with her free throws with 7.7 seconds left in regulation and when the Tigers' Kennedy Martin missed a layup at the buzzer, the game went into overtime.