Belleville West was unable to sustain the momentum it gathered from its one-point victory over crosstown rival Belleville East on Tuesday. Edwardsville had much to do with that.
The Tigers’ junior trio of A.J. Epenesa (21 points), Mark Smith (15) and Oliver Stephen (11) combined for 47 points on 20-for-33 shooting in Edwardsville’s 59-49 victory over the Maroons on Friday in a Southwestern Conference game.
Edwardsville (16-4, 8-0) took control with a 10-2 run to open the third quarter, then spread the floor and chewed up the Maroons (8-11, 3-6) with backdoor cuts that led to easy layups.
“Belleville West is hard to score against,” Tigers coach Mike Waldo said. “Clearly, they know how to play defense. They’ve got a great coaching staff and they’ve got some big guys around the basket. So us being able to get them spread out a little more in the second half helped us. When you have to spread out more, it’s hard to play your traditional, good fundamental defense, and that helped us score some more baskets.”
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Senior Chrys Colley and sophomore Caleb Strohmeier added six points apiece for the Tigers, who stretched their 28-24 halftime lead to 45-30 by outscoring West 17-6 in the third quarter.
Everybody on the team got a backcut, and that’s just the drills we do in practice. That’s due to Coach (Mike) Waldo’s preparation. We do that every day in practice.
Edwardsville junior guard Mark Smith
The Maroons were 1-for-13 from the field in the third quarter. Smith, meanwhile, scored seven points in the period for the Tigers, including a 3-pointer that made it 43-30.
“Everybody on the team got a backcut, and that’s just the drills we do in practice,” Smith said. “That’s due to Coach Waldo’s preparation. We do that every day in practice.”
Junior Tyler Dancy and freshman E.J. Liddell scored 14 points apiece for the Maroons, who played without coach Joe Muniz. Muniz, battling the flu, was replaced by assistant coach Justin Love, the former St. Louis University star.
“We knew what we were in for going into the game. We played them at their house and it was nothing different,” Love said, referring to a 65-42 loss to the Tigers on Dec. 11.
“I think it just came down to trying to play with a lead or trying to play from behind. You hope to get a lead on them so they can’t go to their bread-and-butter, which is the backdoor cuts and the four corners. We got behind in the second half and they just kind of milked it.”
Love said he didn’t know until early Friday that he would lead the team in Muniz’s absence.
“It was kind of trial by fire a little bit. You hope that you’re ready,” Love said. “You hope you can command the guys and the guys have respect for you. This is Coach Muniz’s team. You just try to do the best job that you can.”
West hung with the Tigers for the first two quarters and trailed by just four points at the intermission despite 15 points from the 6-foot-5 Epenesa.
The teams traded baskets to start the third quarter, but Edwardsville reeled off the next eight points, four by Smith, to open a 38-26 advantage.
It was kind of trial by fire a little bit. You hope that you’re ready. You hope you can command the guys and the guys have respect for you. This is Coach (Joe) Muniz’s team. You just try to do the best job that you can.
Belleville West assistant coach Justin Love, who led the Maroons in the absence of Joe Muniz
The Maroons were no closer than 10 points in the final 13-plus minutes.
“Playing from behind, you’ve got to take gambles, you’ve got to take chances,” Love said. “They did a good job guarding E.J. and Tyler and made it difficult for them to get open looks. We needed to rely on other people on the offensive end. We’ve got to be able to knock down some shots. If we knock down some shots, it’s a different game.”
West’s other three starters, juniors DeAndre Jackson, Jack Lanxon and Elijah Powell, were a combined 4-for-25 from the field.
“Defensively, we did a lot of good things most of the night,” Waldo said. “We didn’t give them a lot of easy opportunities. They had to make some hard shots.”
By the numbers
Liddell, who scored 32 points in the 69-68 victory over East, scored nine points in the fourth quarter but was just 2-for-7 from the field in the first three quarters.
Epenesa, despite missing a dunk in the fourth quarter, was 9-for-15 from the floor. He also manned the top of the Tigers’ spread in the second half and helped find open teammates cutting toward the hoop.
“A.J. can do a lot of things good,” Waldo said. “He’s an athlete, he’s a good rebounder. But that guy is a really smart passer. He’s a really good passer. He’s perfectly content to pass. He did well in that stretch (when we pulled away).”
Edwardsville shot 60 percent (26-for-43), far better than West’s 37 percent (19-for-52). Both teams committed seven turnovers.