Boys Basketball

Unfazed by No. 1 ranking, Edwardsville defeats O’Fallon for 21st straight win

Edwardsville basketball coach talks win over O'Fallon

All five starters scored in double figures Tuesday as the Edwardsville, IL, High School Tigers defeated the O’Fallon, IL, Township High School Panthers 82-64 in an IHSA boys basketball game in O’Fallon, IL, in Southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO.
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All five starters scored in double figures Tuesday as the Edwardsville, IL, High School Tigers defeated the O’Fallon, IL, Township High School Panthers 82-64 in an IHSA boys basketball game in O’Fallon, IL, in Southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO.

Playing their first game since being ranked No. 1 in the the Class 4A state basketball poll, the Edwardsville Tigers hardly looked like a team that would buckle under the pressure.

Senior Mark Smith scored 22 points and senior Oliver Stephen added 15 as the Tigers defeated O’Fallon 82-64 in a Southwestern Conference game Tuesday.

It was the 21st consecutive victory for Edwardsville (25-1, 12-1), a streak Tigers coach Mike Waldo is more interested in protecting than the top ranking.

“Who cares? Nobody cares about that,” Waldo said of the poll, released Tuesday afternoon. “That’s not going to matter once you start playing (a game). I haven’t even thought about it, and I don’t care. We just want to try to do our best to prepare for Friday (at Belleville East) and then do our best to prepare for Springfield or Chatham (Glenwood).”

Who cares? Nobody cares about that. That’s not going to matter once you start playing (a game). I haven’t even thought about it, and I don’t care.

Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo

Junior guard Jack Marinko adopted an ambivalent approach to the poll.

“Everybody wants to come out and play their best against us,” Marinko said. “But I think we just need to keep playing how we’re playing. It’s always good to have that (No. 1) feeling, but we’ve got to keep our heads focused on what we’re going to do down the road.

“I think (the ranking) is an honor; we’ve worked for it. But we just can’t think of that because everybody’s going to be coming to try to play their best against us.”

O’Fallon (14-12, 5-8) was led by senior Ryan Fulton, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Another senior, Jarvus Smith, scored 13 points.

“Their shooters killed us all game,” first-year Panthers coach Jeff Muniz said of the Tigers, who also are gaining national notoriety for being ranked 22nd in USA Today’s Super 25 poll. “Every time they see an open shot, they knock it down. We battled back, but their inside-outside game is so good.”

Their shooters killed us all game.

O’Fallon coach Jeff Muniz

Key moments

Edwardsville led 22-14 after one quarter and 43-27 at halftime. But a 3-pointer by Fulton narrowed the gap to 43-32 with 6:33 left in the third quarter.

The Tigers righted themselves on a steal and dunk by Smith and a layup by senior Jackson Best on a nice feed from Marinko that made it 47-32 at the 4:44 mark.

O’Fallon fell behind 62-43 when Marinko hit a 3-pointer out of the corner as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter. The Panthers rallied again, however, cutting the deficit to 72-61 with 2:13 left in the game. But they could draw no closer.

“My guys did a good job,” Waldo said. “We executed a lot of things good at both ends of the floor. (The Panthers) are hard to guard. They’ve got a lot of guys who are fast with the ball, and their spacing is very good. They do a good job of utilizing their personnel.”

Key performers

Marinko and junior Caleb Strohmeier finished with 13 points apiece for Edwardsville, while senior AJ Epenesa had 10 points despite being in foul trouble most of the game.

Senior Daron Thomas came off the bench and scored nine points for O’Fallon. Fulton had three of the Panthers’ six 3-pointers.

Edwardsville had seven 3-pointers, three of them by Stephen.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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