EDWARDSVILLE — Edwardsville senior Armon Fletcher said he felt honored to be a part of a Southwestern Conference championship squad considering the level of competition in the league.
Fletcher scored 22 points and Shawn Roundtree added 16 points as the Tigers beat the O'Fallon Panthers 54-46 Tuesday to clinch the outright SWC title.
"It's such a good conference," Fletcher said. "There's a lot of good teams, and we're just honored to have the ability to come out here and win a championship tonight. We haven't won it in a few years, so it felt good getting the coaches and ourselves the victory."
Last year, the Tigers placed third in the state in Class 4A, but they were second in SWC behind Belleville East.
"We have good skill, our guys are smart, our guys are competitive and they practice hard," veteran Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said. "So I think it is a very good reward for them given the fact that they're really worked hard to be a good basketball team. I think it's a great accomplishment for our guys. Now we have more things that we want to do, of course, but winning the league this year is outstanding considering all the good teams in it."
The Tigers improved to 24-2 overall, 11-2 overall in the SWC. They'll close out the regular season at home against Belleville East on Friday and begin regional play next week.
The Tigers also got nine points from Darius Crochrell.
The Panthers were led by Donovan Franklin with 20 points and Chase Armstrong with 10 points.
The Panthers dropped to 15-11 overall, 8-5 in the SWC. They'll conclude the regular season at home against Alton on Friday.
"We were trying to keep it alive for ourselves, and several other teams, I'm sure, were rooting for us to keep it alive," O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said of the SWC title. "We knew we were going to have to play 32 hard minutes, and we were close to that."
The Panthers kept pace with the Tigers most of the game except for a 12-4 run late in the first half and a 5-0 spurt late in the fourth quarter.
"You blink against Edwardsville, you miss a check-off or you turn it over or take a bad shot, they can put five or so up real quick and turn a tied game into a five- or six-(point lead)," O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said. "Against a team that is going to control the tempo, five or six looks like a bigger margin than what it is."
The Panthers trailed by 13 points in the third quarter, but they closed the gap to three points, 47-44, on a 3-pointer by Franklin with 2:33 to play.
"I was proud of the way we fought against their four corners," Gibson said of the four-corner offense that the Tigers employed after getting the lead in the third quarter. "We got them out of their four corners. The kids showed some fight to do that. I think we were down by three and actually had the ball, and we had a turnover there. It was just a shame that we couldn't execute a little better in that last minute or so once we got it to three."
The Tigers scored five unanswered points to go ahead 52-44. That stretch was highlighted by Fletcher blocking a shot by Franklin during a key defensive stand that produced a turnover.
It was capped by a steal and breakaway layup by Roundtree with 38 seconds to go.
Franklin got a rebound basket to cut the lead to 52-46 with 17 seconds left, but Fletcher sealed the win with two free throws with 16 seconds to go.
"I thought our guys did really good job defensively the whole game," Waldo said, noting that Trevor Clay and Darian Brown keyed that defensive effort. "Given the fact that they are a very good team to hold them in the 40's is a testament to how good we played defense."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.