The Edwardsville Tigers’ one-two punch of Oliver Stephen and Mark Smith proved to be a little more than the Quincy Blue Devils coud handle on Tuesday in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional. But just barely.
Smith and Stephen combined for 38 points and each made key steals down the stretch as the second-seeded Tigers held off a furious Quincy comeback attempt for a 53-49 semifinal win at Edwardsville High School.
With Smith scoring 13 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, Edwardsville (18-10) built a seemingly comfortable 13-point lead with just under four minutes left in the game.
But the Blue Devils rallied. Getting a 3-point basket by Mike Dade and strong inside play from Jacob Jobe and Parker Bland, Quincy twice cut the Tigers lead to four points in the closing 90 seconds but when Jordan Harris hit two free throws with 29 seconds left, Edwardsville had a six point lead and was headed to the title game on Friday.
“Quincy is a very well-coached team and they’ve got good shooters. When you’ve got shooters, you can come back and that’s what they did,” Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said. “They ran a lot of different sets against us and they ran them well. But I thought our guys battled hard and were able to come away with the win. I thought Jordan (Harris) did a good job on defense and we had some other guys step and do a good job on the defensive end of the floor. We beat a good team tonight.”
The win means Edwardsville will play another good team on Friday in the Alton Redbirds. The top-seeded Redbirds advanced with a 59-44 win over the Granite City Warriors in the first semifinal of the night. The title game is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at Edwardsville High School.
While Smith led the Edwardsville attack with 13 second half points, it was Stephen who was the key man in getting the Tigers off to a fast start, The sophomore hit four 3-point shots in the opening half while Smith added seven points — all in the first quarter.
“We set some good screens to help get Oliver (Stephen) open in the first half and we had AJ Epenesa in the post who was also doing a good job. It’s hard to guard both the perimeter and the post area,” Waldo said. “AJ was in foulr trouble, but it seemed like everytime we put him in the game, something good happened. I think he scored a couple of big baskets for us.”
Alton 59, Granite City 44: It took the athletic Redbirds longer then expected, but Darius Edwards and Carlos Anderson took over in the fourth quarter as Alton overcame the pesky Warriors in the first semifinal of the night.
Grantie City (11-17) trailed throughout, but rallied to with 29-25 late in the third quarter. The Warriors then had a chance to cut the lead to two, but Traron Allen missed a point blank shot and on their next trip down the floor, Alton got a 3-point shot from Maurice Edwards to push the lead back to seven points.
Leading 34-27 entering the final period, the Redbirds, who were just 5-of-12 from the free throw line in the first two quarters, clinched the game from the game with a 14-4 scoring run. Anderson and Edwards keyed the run with four points each and push Alton (25-4) into the title game.
“First of all, that’s a good team we played tonight in Granite City. They played us tough twice during the season and the second half of the season they played everybody tough, including East St. Louis,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “We did a good job early of getting the ball down low to Bryan (Hudson) and we were able to get a lead.”
Edwards and Hudson paced Alton with 16 points each, while Darius Edwards and Anderson added 12 and 11 points respectviely for the Redbirds.
Darrell Miller had 14 points and Kenny Berry added 12 for Granite City.
“I’m proud of my team. They kept working hard all year and we played a lot of teams tough this season,” Warriors coach Steve Roustio said. “The play where we had a chance to cut the lead to two wasn’t the difference in the ballgame. It was a big play because they came down and hit a 3-point shot to go back up by seven. But it didn’t cost us the game.”