Boys Basketball

Stephen hits nine 3-pointers as top-seeded Edwardsville wins easily

Edwardsville vs McCluer North at Holiday Classic

The Edwardsville High School Tigers boys basketball team, of Edwardsville, IL, face off against McCluer North High School Stars boys basketball team, of Florissant, MO, at the Holiday Classic.
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The Edwardsville High School Tigers boys basketball team, of Edwardsville, IL, face off against McCluer North High School Stars boys basketball team, of Florissant, MO, at the Holiday Classic.

Senior Oliver Stephen made nine 3-pointers on 13 attempts Wednesday to lead the top-seeded Edwardsville Tigers to an 83-53 victory over McCluer North in the first round of the 33rd annual Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.

Stephen was just one 3-pointer away from tying the tournament record, set last year by Quincy senior Jake Jobe in a 57-38 victory over Lincoln in the third-place game.

Stephen, who finished with 29 points, had a chance to match the record. But a 3-pointer from the left wing caromed off the rim with 3 1/2 minutes left. Stephen exited moments later.

“I’m usually not aware of any of that stuff,” Stephen said of shooting for a record. “We’ve had a whole week of practice, just preparing. That’s a whole week of shooting I’ve gotten to do. I felt pretty good out there.”

Twice this season, Stephen has had 10 3-pointers in a game. He has 37 this season. The 6-foot-4 Stephen also completed his first high-school dunk.

I’m usually not aware of any of that stuff. We’ve had a whole week of practice, just preparing. That’s a whole week of shooting I’ve gotten to do. I felt pretty good out there.

Edwardsville senior Oliver Stephen, who made nine 3-pointers in the Tigers’ win over McCluer North

“The dunk, that was nice. That was pretty good to have,” Stephen said.

Stephen said he looks at each 3-point shot as a separate transaction. If he misses, he shoves it from his mind and moves on to his next opportunity.

“I try and forget about every miss I shoot so I don’t have a negative thought going into the next shot,” he said. “I just try to keep a positive head about every shot.

“If (teams) spend two people (to guard me), I’m always going to try to find the other guy. I’m always looking to pass first. It’s always good to watch other people get baskets, too.”

Edwardsville (8-1), playing in the tournament for the first time since 1995, will face Lincoln (9-1) in the quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo and Lincoln coach Neil Alexander have combined for 1,457 career victories.

Senior Mark Smith had 15 points and seven assists for Edwardsville, which also received 14 points and six rebounds from senior AJ Epenesa and 12 points from junior Caleb Strohmeier.

Stephen’s team-first approach has endeared him to his teammates.

“Ollie’ was on,” Smith said. “Ollie’s a very smart basketball player. He knows how to play basketball and when to shoot a good shot. I’ve been playing with him forever. He’s fun to watch when he gets hot.”

Waldo was pleased with his team’s performance. After McCluer North (3-4) took a 21-18 lead early the second quarter, Edwardsville grabbed the lead and never relinquished it when Stephen made consecutive 3-pointers. He had six 3s in the second half.

“I thought my guys played good,” Waldo said. “We had to play well to win. (McCluer North) made some hard shots, then they had two or three trips in a row where they missed and it came off long for us, and we were able to get a little transition going. We made some baskets out of that, and that helped us get ahead.”

Waldo said it was good to be back in the tournament. Edwardsville has participated in the State Farm Holiday Classic, the Carbondale Holiday Tournament and the Charleston Holiday Tournament since leaving Collinsville 21 years ago.

“We’ve had a lot of good memories at Collinsville,” Waldo said. “We’ve played some postseason games here and in the Collinsville Tournament. It’s always good to try something new. This is a really good tournament, so obviously, it’s going to be hard to win games in it. But it’s a good gym and a good place to play.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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