The Edwardsville boys basketball team defeated Belleville West 56-43 in the semifinals of the Class 4A Ottawa Sectional at Vergil Fletcher Gym in Collinsville Tuesday.
Senior guard Mark Smith scored 11 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Tigers to the win over the Maroons, who still represent the only blemish on Edwardsville’s push for a Class 4A state championship.
With the semifinal victory — played in Collinsville for the sake of easy travel — the 29-1 Tigers advance to the sectional final in Ottawa. They will face Danville (22-8) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Mark made some good decisions with the ball and I thought we did a good job getting him in good spots with the ball,” said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo. “You’re excited about anything you get to do this time of year because it means you’re still playing.”
West’s season ends at 20 wins for the first time in coach Joe Muniz’s 13-year tenure and with its first regional championship since 2012.
The Maroons’ season highlight, however, was defeating Edwardsville, currently ranked No. 1 in Illinois by The Associated Press, back on Dec. 3.
It looked like West could do it again after they held the Tigers to just 9-of-29 shooting through the first three quarters. But for AJ Epenesa’s turnaround jumper at the buzzer, the Maroons would have gone into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead.
Sparked by Smith, the Tigers hit 8 of 10 shots from the field in the fourth quarter.
“That’s due to hard work in practice. Coach Waldo does a lot of shooting in practice and he told us just to keep shooting and being confident,” Smith said. “That’s what we did and they started falling.”
The game was tied at 8 apiece with 2:10 left in the first quarter when Oliver Stephen hit a 3-pointer, and Smith put down a pair of authoritative dunks in a 7-0 run that could have put the Tigers in command.
But West senior Tyler Dancy scored six points in the second quarter, and DeAndre Jackson had a key putback on his own missed shot to make it a two-point game, 23-21, at halftime.
The Maroons led for five minutes of the third quarter and held a two-point edge after Elijah Powell hit a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds left.
But Epenesa received a long inbound pass and hit a jumper at the buzzer to tie the game at 30.
“That was a good play. Edwardsville executes. From that play throughout the fourth quarter, they executed,” Muniz said. “That’s what Edwardsville does.”
That’s when Smith took charge, rallying the Tigers ahead with a 3-pointer and a conventional 3-point play.
“Anytime we’re behind, we’re going to be chasing,” Muniz said. “You hope they don’t make shots but, when it mattered, they did.”
Edwardsville, to that point, had shot just 1 of 11 from beyond the arc, but Stephen drained another to put the Tigers ahead by 10. Then Epenesa made the lead 47-35 with a spectacular dunk off the alley-oop from Smith.
The play drew a technical foul, but the Tigers closed on an 11-3 run.
“I’m really proud of my guys and how they competed all season, we just didn’t have enough bullets tonight to get the job done,” Muniz said. “Edwarsville is good. That team’s got state champion written all over it.”
Epenesa finished with 11 points for Edwardsville, and Stephen added eight. The Tigers finished 43.6 percent from the field. They also shot 13 of 15 from the line.
Dancy, a four-year starter at West, wrapped up his high school career with 15 points, topping 1,300 for his career. Liddell was held to two points in the first half, but finished with 10. Powell had nine.
The Maroons shot 37.5 percent from the field, but just 2 of 10 from 3-point range. They were 6 of 11 on free throws.