It took O’Fallon three quarters to figure out how to clip the wings of the hot-shooting Alton Redbirds.
But the Panthers didn’t get that last stop they needed to pick up an important Southwestern Conference victory.
Alton junior guard Kevin Caldwell scored with five seconds left to give the Redbirds a 55-54 win and ruin what had been a determined O’Fallon comeback.
“I didn’t feel like we came out with the same energy we had in our first five games,” said first-year head coach Brian Muniz. “We really picked it up in the second half and I’m proud of that, but we just couldn’t make that last stop. That No. 22, Caldwell, is really good.”
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It was a closer win than Alton coach Eric Smith thought it would be after his team opened the lead at halftime. But any win in the Southwestern Conference — which has three teams ranked in the Illinois’ 4A top 10 — is a good win.
“That’s a really good team over there with guys who have played together a long time,” Smith said. “It got uncomfortable there in the fourth quarter, but we did what we had to do. We’ve got to win our games at home and steal a handful of these games like we had to tonight.”
O’Fallon (4-2, 1-1 SWC) plays at Granite City Friday. Alton (5-1, 2-0) will be at No. 9-ranked East St. Louis.
The Redbirds built a nine-point lead in game’s final period after landing 11 of 12 shots from the field, including a half-court 3-pointer by Darrell Smith to beat the first-half buzzer.
But O’Fallon senior Jarvus Smith scored all of his eight points in the fourth quarter, including six in a row off of Alton turnovers. Alex Orr hit a pair of free throws to put the Panthers ahead 52-51 with 40.2 seconds left.
It was their first lead since Alton’s torrid shooting streak started early in the second quarter.
“We turned it over way too much,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like we did anything else poorly, but we probably tried to do too much on the dribble and turned it over.”
Caldwell hit a pair of free throws ahead of a layup by O’Fallon’s Daron Thomas, then scored the game winner on a left-handed layup.
“(Caldewell) did a great job penetrating on us all night,” Muniz said. “He was making the right move against us, either passing it off or taking it in and we just didn’t do a very good job stopping him.”
Dereaun Clay led Alton with 12 points while Caldwell had 11.
The Redbirds shot 45.6 percent from the field, including 4-of-9 from three-point range. Alton was 18-for-34 in the first three quarters.
For O’Fallon, Alex Orr scored a game-high 13 and Jalen Hodge, who fouled out late in the game, had 12. The Panthers shot 43 percent.