Althoff was ready to turn the tables on Edwardsville after its narrow loss to the Tigers on Nov. 26 in Highland.
Instead, the Crusaders received another heavy dose of Mark Smith.
Smith, a 6-foot-4 senior, scored 35 points and dished out eight assists as the top-seeded Tigers (11-1) outlasted second-seeded Althoff 83-75 in the championship game of the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Classic. It was the Tigers’ first appearance in the tournament since 1995.
Smith, who scored a career-high 37 points in the teams’ first meeting, an 81-78 Edwardsville win, was named the tournament’s MVP.
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“It means a lot. That’s great,” the soft-spoken Smith said of the MVP honor. “But I’m glad the team won. We won the tournament, and that’s what it’s about.”
After the game, Smith spent several minutes talking to Illinois coach John Groce and assistant Jamall Walker, both of whom were in attendance.
Althoff senior Jordan Goodwin, who has signed with Saint Louis University, said the Illini should quit wasting time and offer Smith a scholarship.
“I don’t know what they’re waiting on,” Goodwin said. “They need to pull the plug. They need to offer him before I go talk to Saint Louis (about him).”
Goodwin had a game-high 33 points and 15 rebounds in defeat and set the tournament scoring record with 128 points. The former mark of 118 points was shared by Cuonzo Martin of East St. Louis Lincoln in 1988 and Ryan Harrow of Walton (Ga.) in 2008.
Goodwin has scored 212 points in his last six games, an average of 35.3.
Junior Jack Marinko scored a career-high 21 points and was 6-for-6 on 3-pointers for Edwardsville. Senior AJ Epenesa had 15 points and 11 rebounds and reached the 1,000-point mark for his career when he had a putback with 6:28 to play in the game.
Epenesa has 1,006 points and is the 21st Edwardsville player to eclipse 1,000.
“It’s a huge honor, and I’m super excited for me and Mark to get it this early in the season,” said Epenesa, referring to Smith gaining the 1,000-point plateau Thursday. “Oliver (Stephen) is right at the door, too. So to get all three of us in the 1,000-point club in one season and in the same class is a big deal. I don’t think it’s ever happened before in Edwardsville history.”
Seniors Marvin Bateman (16 points) and C.J. Coldon (10) also reached double figures for Althoff.
“They’re a good ballclub,” said Crusaders coach Greg Leib, whose team slipped to 8-3. “We didn’t get beat by a bunch of rummies. (Edwardsville coach) Mike Waldo has figured out a few things about the game of basketball.”
Smith dunked over Althoff senior Edwyn Brown on a runout after a Crusaders turnover and turned it into a 3-point play after being fouled by Brown. That put Edwardsville in command at 67-52 with 5:17 to play.
Althoff rallied to within 79-75 on two free throws by Goodwin with 52.9 seconds to play. Another runout basket by Smith and two free throws by junior Caleb Strohmeier clinched it.
Edwardsville shot 66 percent from the field (29-for-44) compared to just 42 percent for the Crusaders (30-for-71). The Tigers made 11 3-pointers on 17 attempts. Althoff was 9-for-28 from beyond the arc, led by Bateman’s 4-for-7 showing.
Joining Smith on the all-tournament team was Goodwin and Coldon of Althoff; Epenesa and Stephen of Edwardsville; Terrence Hargrove Jr. and Jeremiah Tilmon of East St. Louis; Trevyon Williams of Springfield Southeast; Javon Pickett of Belleville East; Parker Bland of Quincy; and Amir Brummett of Decatur MacArthur.