Alton sophomore Maurice Edwards was doubtful for the Redbirds’ Southwestern Conference game against Edwardsville because of a deep thigh bruise.
But with Alton on the ropes midway through the third quarter, Edwards sprang off the bench and helped the Redbirds rally for a 63-52 win before a crowd of 3,000.
“It pretty much went away,” the 6-foot Edwards said of the injury. “I didn’t really feel it too much when I was playing. It slowed me down a little bit, but it didn’t really affect me. He (coach Eric Smith) put me in and I just did what I had to do.”
Edwards, who entered the game with 4:11 to play in the quarter and the Redbirds trailing 33-30, finished with four points. His most important basket came on a driving layup with two seconds to play in the period, and it put Alton on top for good at 40-38.
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“I wanted to come in with energy,” Edwards said. “I didn’t want to be all down because I wasn’t playing. I wanted to be a team player and help my team win.”
Alton coach Eric Smith marveled at the work turned in by Edwards.
“He’s a talented player,” Smith said. “He’s explosive and he has the ability to do some things with the basketball. He’s still young and he makes some plays that kind of pull our hair out every once in a while, but I certainly would rather have that with an athletic kid that will make plays for us.
“It’s still a learning process for him. He’s going to be a pretty special player. That energy, coming out fresh, probably helped us a little bit.”
Senior Carlos Anderson also was a key player down the stretch. The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit picked up two first-quarter fouls and sat on the bench the entire second quarter, but he scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half.
Senior Darrius Edwards added 14 points for the Redbirds, who bounced back from their loss Tuesday at East St. Louis and improved to 14-3 overall and 6-2 in the SWC. Alton played its second straight game without senior Isaiah Thurmond (knee injury).
Sophomore Mark Smith led all scorers with 19 points for Edwardsville (9-7, 4-3). Senior Kyler Davis had 11 and sophomores A.J. Epenesa and Oliver Stephen had nine apiece. Edwardsville committed 16 of its 21 turnovers in the second half.
“We had a good chance of winning the game. I’m really not displeased with the way we played,” said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo, whose team led 38-34 in the third quarter before Alton went on a 14-1 run to surge ahead 48-39 with 6:23 to play in the game. “We did a lot of things well; they’re just hard to play against.”
Edwardsville played without senior guard Dan Marinko, who was on a football recruiting trip. Senior Jordan Harris started for Marinko and scored two points.
“I thought Jordan Harris played an excellent game,” Waldo said. “He battled and did really good. But any organization that doesn’t have Dan Marinko is going to be hurting because Dan Marinko is a 1-percenter. He’s a winner.”
The Tigers built a 28-22 lead at halftime as they finally found their touch from the 3-point line after struggling mightily against conference foes East St. Louis and O’Fallon.
Edwardsville was 4-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, with Stephen making three in a row in the second quarter. The Tigers were 4-for-9 on 3-pointers in the second half, but Alton negated them by abandoning its outside game and concentrating on its primary strength: driving to the basket.
The Redbirds were 1-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half as the Tigers refused to guard the perimeter. They shot just two 3-pointers in the second half, missing them both, to finish 1-for-14.
“We talked to the kids before the game that we had to be stubborn,” Smith said. “We weren’t stubborn in the first half. We talked to them again in the second half and told them if we took more than two or three 3s in the second half, we were going to lose.”
Anderson put the Redbirds on his back, going 7-for-10 in the second half. He 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“He rebounds and he made some shots,” Smith said. “He’s been struggling a little bit from the field, but we can live with that if he just continues to give us energy, and tonight he gave us energy and points. It’s a win-win for us.”
The second half started poorly for Edwardsville. Alton senior Lavonte Hobbs fouled the 6-5 Epenesa in the low blocks, but Epenesa pushed Hobbs and was called for a technical.
Darrius Edwards made two free throws to cut the Redbirds’ deficit to 28-24, anmd Hobbs converted on the ensuing possession to make it 28-26.
Maurice Edwards entered the game moments later, and Alton went on to outscore Edwardsville 33-19 over the final 12:11.
“Twenty-five (Edwards) did a good job for them in the second half,” Waldo said. “He’s a good driver and he does a lot of good things for them.”