Edwardsville’s first trip to the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic in 21 years will result in a championship-game appearance.
Senior Mark Smith scored 23 of his game-high 30 points in the second half Thursday as the top-seeded Tigers cruised past fourth-seeded Springfield Southeast 66-41 in the semifinals.
Smith made a 3-pointer with 3:08 to play in the game, giving him 1,001 points in his career.
“It’s a big milestone,” he said. “but I couldn’t do it without my teammates. They helped put me in spots and situations where I can score the ball. It’s a good feeling, a good milestone. I’m just trying to keep working forward to our goal. We’re trying to win (Friday).”
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Edwardsville (11-1) will play second-seeded Althoff (8-2) in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Senior Oliver Stephen added 15 points and five 3-pointers, giving him 18 3-pointers in Edwardsville’s first three tournament games.
The Tigers led Southeast (10-2) 23-15 at halftime, then pulled away in the third quarter when they outscored the Spartans 23-10. Oliver sparked the surge with three 3-pointers.
But it was Smith who did the majority of the heavy lifting. With Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham watching, Smith was 11 for 18 from the field and had eight rebounds and five assists.
Southeast coach Lawrence Thomas was more than impressed.
“Just tremendous,” Thomas said. “He is the best guard we’ve seen all year. He turned the water on when he wanted to, and he turned the water off at his command. It wasn’t entertaining, but I have to respect the performance that kid (had) on the floor.”
Smith said he wasn’t fully aware of how close he was to 1,000 points.
“I knew I was close, but I didn’t realize I was that close. We were worried about winning the game, anyway,” said Smith, who didn’t seem to have much of a chance to reach 1,000 at halftime when he had scored just seven points.
“Coach (Mike Waldo) ran me off ball screens where I could get to the basket and shoot jumpers,” Smith said of his mammoth second half. “That’s what we did, really. I came off the ball screen, read it and made the right read.
“I just play. I really don’t care about the points or anything. I just want to win and do whatever I can to help the team. It might (mean more later).”
Edwardsville advanced to the semifinals with a 42-32 victory over Lincoln in the afternoon quarterfinals. Stephen scored 13 points and made four 3-pointers, while senior AJ Epenesa had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Smith had 11 points and eight rebounds.
The game matched Waldo against Railsplitters coach Neil Alexander, both of whom are members of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. It was the first meeting between the coaches, who began Thursday with 1,457 combined career victories.
Epenesa battled foul trouble and had just four points against Southeast. The Iowa football recruit needs nine points Friday to surpass the 1,000-point mark in his career.
East wins twice
Belleville East (7-4), after losing to Decatur Eisenhower on Wednesday, reached the consolation-championship game with wins Thursday over Oakville and McCluer North.
Illinois recruit Javon Pickett, a senior, had 30 points and 10 rebounds against Oakville. Senior Rico Sylvester had 17 points, and Pickett had 16 against McCluer North.
The Lancers will play Southwestern Conference rival Collinsville in the consolation-title game at 3 p.m. Friday. The Kahoks won two games Thursday, 66-42 over Oakville and 52-42 in overtime over Hazelwood East.