Edwardsville basketball celebrates sectional title
Mark Smith likes having a nylon net draped across his shoulders.
The Edwardsville senior scored 45 points to lead the Tigers to an 81-59 win over Danville in the championship game of the Class 4A Ottawa Sectional.
“I like the way it looks, and it feels good,” said Smith, holding one trophy in his hands and wearing the one his teammates had just cut from the rim around his neck. “I’d like to get another one.”
Edwardsville (30-1) will take its next step toward what it hopes is the school’s first state title at the Normal Super-Sectional on Tuesday. The Tigers will take on Simeon Career Academy, from Chicago, at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena at 7 p.m.
Simeon has won seven state titles, six of them in the last 11 years. It finished third last season.
Danville closed what had been a 22-point Tiger lead to just seven late in the third quarter. But Smith — with Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta watching — scored 24 points in the game’s final 10 minutes to secure the Tigers’ postseason advancement.
The performance fell just one point shy of a record in the historical northern Illinois gym, which was built in 1932.
“They were worried about Oliver (Stephen) and worried about me and our other threats, and so they tried to guard Mark one-on-one,” said Edwardsville senior A.J. Epenesa. “I don’t think anybody can really do that.”
Danville’s season ended at 22-9. The Vikings were playing Friday without top rebounder and second-leading scorer Day’len Davis-Williams, who broke his ankle in the regional finals.
The Tigers took the lead early on a pair of 3-pointers and a dunk by Smith, who had 17 points by the end of the first half.
Epenesa, who was matched in the paint against Danville’s 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior Julian Pearl, a verbal commit to Northern Illinois football, scored on a dunk to spark a 14-3 run to close the first quarter and put Edwardsville in command.
Edwardsville points came a little slower in the second quarter with Epenesa on the bench with two fouls, but Oliver Stephen drained a 3 and Smith had another dunk during a 10-4 run that gave the Tigers a 39-22 halftime lead.
The lead expanded to 44-22 before Danville sophomore Sean Houpt hit three 3s and Jerry Reed found room to drive the lane. The two led the Vikings on a 18-3 run that made it a seven-point game at the 2:31 mark of the third quarter.
“They made a little run, but we stayed calm and composed and just kept playing our game,” Smith said.
Epenesa picked up his third and fourth personal fouls during the Danville run.
But Smith, who scored 31 points against Belleville West in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal, took over by scoring the Tigers’ next 22 points to quickly take the lead back to 20 points.
“Our guys did a a good job without A.J., but it certainly hurt our defense some,” said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo. “Our guys did a good job of battling during that time.
“Mark did a lot of things well tonight. He was good on defense, and he did a lot of good things with the ball. Our guys did a good job delivering the ball to him under a lot of duress.”
Smith also was the game’s top rebounder with 13. Stephen finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Tigers shot 58.7 percent from the field, including 8 of 15 from 3-point range.
Danville was led by Kendle Moore’s 13 points and Reed’s 12. The Vikings shot 34.3 percent, landing just 8 of 32 3-point attempts.