EDWARDSVILLE — Among the biggest contrasts Edwardsville High senior Trevor Clay has experienced after transferring from a small school in St. Louis are the size of the gyms and the talent on the floor.
The former Crossroads Prep standout nailed a crucial 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 31 seconds remaining Friday to put the Tigers on top for good as they took over first place in the Southwestern Conference with a 58-49 victory over East St. Louis.
"The biggest difference is the atmosphere, it's amazing over here," said Clay, a senior whose 18 points led four Tigers in double figures. "Every game you're playing talent, you're playing a good team. You have to bring it every night."
Alton's 59-58 loss to Belleville East on Friday, coupled with the Edwardsville win, put the Tigers (18-1 overall, 7-1 in the SWC) back in first place. Edwardsville and Alton (17-3, 6-2) were tied for seventh in the last Class 4A state rankings and Alton was first in the News-Democrat Large-School Poll ahead of No. 2 Edwardsville.
Clay's 3, his fourth of the night, helped swing momentum back for an Edwardsville team that was being pushed hard by East St. Louis.
A 3-pointer from senior guard Justin Smith gave the Flyers (12-7, 4-4) a 47-44 lead with 4:33 remaining. But Edwardsville outscored East Side 11-2 the rest of the way and took advantage of some late turnovers by the Flyers that proved costly.
"We had a couple stops down the stretch and that's really just us buckling down as a team," said Clay, who nailed another 3 that gave the Tigers a 41-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter. "Coach (Mike) Waldo getting on us and making us buckle down."
Flyers coach Tony Young and his squad won't have long to look for revenge since they host the Tigers in East St. Louis on Wednesday.
"It's just finishing teams out," said Young, whose team had nine of its 16 turnovers in the second half. "A couple turnovers, a couple plays here and there, a couple missed defensive assignments. It happens.
"The good thing about this game is we play them again Wednesday. We suck this one up and go back to Wednesday and get ready for them."
Trailing 50-49 after Clay's 3-pointer, the Flyers were called for traveling with 1:40 remaining. After two free throws by Darius Crochrell moved the Edwardsville lead to three, the Flyers had another turnover with 50.9 seconds remaining.
Earlier in the quarter, a made basket by junior Terry Beckner, Jr., with 2:45 remaining was wiped out on a charging call.
Senior Shawn Roundtree added 16 points for the Tigers, who helped themselves at the foul line with a 16-for-18 performance in the second half. They hit 12 free throws in the fourth quarter alone.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit Armon Fletcher added 12 for the Tigers and Crochrell had 10.
"We've got to take away the easy points, make them earn every bucket," Young said. "Waldo's a great coach, he's got some good players out here. We've just got to come out and continue to play our game."
Both teams hit shots at the end of the first two quarters, but the one by the Flyers was far more dramatic.
After an Edwardsville turnover, Smith drained a running 3 that he banked in at the buzzer to give East St. Louis its first lead of the night, 28-26 at halftime.
Darrion Bean had the Flyers' first seven points and nine of their first 11 before finishing with 18.
The Flyers' quickness helped force Edwardsville into nine first-half turnovers. Edwardsville led 21-16 midway through the second quarter, but was outscored 12-5 by the Flyers until halftime.
Six-foot-nine freshman Jeremiah Tilmon, a starter earlier this season, was in street clothes and did not play for the East St. Louis. He has missed the last few games.
Will Tilmon be back in the lineup next week?
"We don't know yet. I can't think about that," Young said. "If he's back, he's back. If he's not I can't do anything about it. What we're going to do is worry about making the corrections from tonight."