Belleville West has so far been the only speed bump in Edwardsville’s 18-1 start to the season.
But the Maroons came out flat as roadkill Friday at Lucco-Jackson Gym, yielding 22 points to the Tigers before sinking their first field goal with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
It was too big a lead to spot the Southwestern Conference leaders, and the Tigers steamrolled their way to a 73-47 win.
“I think it just was just one of those things,” said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo. “Early in the game when they got some open shots, they didn’t make them, and we did a good job of limiting their second shots. That’s how we got the lead big early.
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“Belleville West is a very good team, but I think it snowballed on them.”
The Maroons missed their first 10 shots of the game as Edwardsville rolled behind senior A.J. Epenesa, who’s been absent two weeks to participate in the Polynesian Bowl all-star football game, and guard Mark Smith, who finished with a game-high 26 points.
It didn’t help the Maroons to lose senior Tyler Dancy for the second half with a foot injury. It was the left foot this time, opposite the strained tendon that kept him out of two games last week at the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
West ended up shooting 29.8 percent from the field and hit just 5 of 15 free throws.
“They did a good job taking away our inside presence, and we didn’t exactly do what we wanted to do,” said Belleville West head coach Joe Muniz. “Our idea was to attack, and our guys were not attacking very well. You saw as the game went on, we got to the foul line but then couldn’t make our free throws.”
Edwardsville (18-1, 7-1 SWC) protected its conference lead with the win, their only loss coming against the Maroons (11-7, 5-3) on Dec. 3.
“I don’t remember seeing the Southwestern Conference with so much parity, with so many teams bunched so close together,” Waldo said. “Our guys have done a good job, but we know how competitive it is and that there’s a long way to go.”
Smith scored nine points, and Oliver Stephen drained a pair of 3-pointers as part of the Tigers’ game-opening 22-0 run.
But the Maroons battled back, closing 13 points before halftime, thanks to 3s from E.J. Liddell, Ian Parker and Elijah Powell. Full-court pressure and an 8-2 run in the third narrowed the Edwardsville lead to 43-32.
But Stephens drained another 3-pointer after six consecutive free throw misses by the Maroons to reignite the Tigers’ offense, which outscored West 21-11 in the fourth quarter.
In addition to Smith’s 26, Stephens had 17 and Epenesa had 16.
For the Maroons, sophomore Keith Randolph scored 14 in place of Dancy, and Liddell had 10.