The Alton Redbirds saw much of the same from the Edwardsville Tigers in their third meeting of the season Friday.
With a 44-27 win, they got the same result as the first two contests and a Class 4A Edwardsville Regional championship plaque to go with it.
“It means a lot. In my four years, I’ve probably beaten them once my first three years, and I was injured,” said Alton senior Carlos Anderson. “We’re just blessed to have this opportunity.”
Alton (26-4) won by 11 and 33 points in the first two matchups, but needed patient and stubborn play to separate from the Tigers, who trailed 14-10 at halftime.
Edwardsville dictated a slow pace of play, and kept the more athletic Redbirds within reach.
“Coach (Eric Smith) told us we have to be stubborn with the way we play,” Anderson said. “We have to know they can’t stop us, no matter what they throw at us. They threw the stall at us, and we were more patient and came out with the W.”
Edwardsville’s only lead came in the opening minute at 2-0 on a layup by sophomore Oliver Stephen. Stephen did not score after, and only sophomore center AJ Epenesa posed a threat to the Redbirds.
“Even the looks they had when they got some opportunities, they had to run a lot of offense,” Smith said. “What we do wears people down. At the end of the game, it challenges people’s decision making.”
The defenses suffocated on both ends of the court in the first half.
The Tigers attempted 10 shots in the first half and struggled to penetrate the 3-point arc. Alton found Edwardsville clogging the lane on every possession, and sunk six of its 16 field-goal attempts in the opening half.
“Everyone wants to label us run-and-gun athletes, and that’s fine,” Smith said. “If we have to sit down, dig our heels in, and throw the first punch, we can do that.”
Alton grabbed an 11-6 lead on 3-pointer by Anderson at the 6:59 mark of the second quarter, but Edwardsville responded with the next four points.
Epenesa blocked Anderson’s next shot to give the Tigers short-lived momentum, but Anderson recovered and dropped in the putback.
A free throw by senior Bryan Hudson gave the Redbirds the small halftime lead.
“Just down four at half and well into the third quarter when we were down just five,” said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo, “we thought we were in good shape,”
Alton forced back-to-back steals in the backcourt by Darrius and Maurice Edwards that led to a free throw and lay-up. The seven-point lead proved to be insurmountable for the Tigers.
“They’re quick and long,” Waldo said of the Redbirds. “It’s hard to hold onto the ball a long time against them because of their athleticism and quickness. I thought the key to the game was (Anderson) throwing those two threes in.”
Alton called a timeout with 3:16 left in the third and tamed the Tigers for good. Anderson sunk a 3, Darrius Edwards nailed a jumper on the baseline, and Hudson threw down a dunk off a drop pass from Darrius Edwards on consecutive possessions that came off back-to-back Edwardsville turnovers.
With a 26-14 lead, Alton slowed play and never let Edwardsville, who ended with an 18-11 record, shrink the deficit.
Anderson quietly tallied 18 points, and led the Redbirds’ swarming defense.
Epenesa was the only Tiger to score in the second half until the final minute when Alton led 38-22. The sophomore finished with 16 points.