Coming off their championship in the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, the Edwardsville Tigers got 26 points from senior Mark Smith and 15 points from senior Oliver Stephen on Tuesday as they defeated the East St. Louis Flyers 66-55 in a Southwestern Conference game.
The Tigers, ranked third in the Class 4A state poll, played without 6-foot-6 senior AJ Epenesa, an Iowa football recruit who is in San Antonio preparing to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game on Saturday.
“This was a gutty win,” said the 6-4 Smith, who received a scholarship offer from Illinois on Sunday. “I thought it just showed our toughness. At the end, they tried to get real physical with us, bump us and just foul us. We had to finish strong. I thought we did an excellent job.”
East Side (9-5, 4-1 SWC) played the final 10:18 without 6-11 Jeremiah Tilmon, an Illinois recruit. Tilmon picked up his fourth foul with 2:18 to play in the third quarter, then was slapped with a technical when he kicked the ball down the court.
“It was a huge factor,” East St. Louis coach Phillip Gilbert said of Tilmon, who scored just eight points. “He is who he is. You have to try to find a way to fill that void. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. He has to do a better job of controlling his emotions as a basketball player. I tell him all the time, ‘You’re going to see stuff like this for the rest of your life, as long as you play basketball.’”
When Tilmon left, the game steadily moved in Edwardsville’s favor.
The Tigers (12-1, 4-1 SWC) led just 33-32 when Tilmon fouled Smith. Smith missed both free throws, but Stephen made the technical foul shots to make it 35-32. On Edwardsville’s ensuing possession, Smith drove the lane to make it 37-32.
Estes made it 39-34 with 58 seconds left in the quarter, but Smith then found junior Jack Marinko cutting through the lane and hit him with a perfect pass that resulted in an easy layup at the buzzer, growing Edwardsville’s lead to 41-34.
East Side was no closer than four points in the fourth quarter.
Smith had 16 points in the fourth quarter and was 10 for 10 from the free-throw line. Marinko and Strohmeier chipped in with nine points each.
East Side committed just four turnovers and received solid play at both ends of the court from Estes and Chairs, but Tilmon’s absence slowed its offensive consistency.
“Losing the big fellow like that causes a major adjustment,” Gilbert said. “You can’t replace a 7-footer.”