Collinsville’s postseason momentum will be put to the test at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the Kahoks play yet another familiar Southwestern Conference foe.
Alton, which defeated the Kahoks twice in the regular season, will provide the competition in the semifinals of the Class 4A Pekin Sectional at Belleville East High School.
Collinsville (20-12) knocked off second-seeded O’Fallon and top-seeded East St. Louis to win the Belleville West Regional. O’Fallon and East Side had been 2-0 against the Kahoks.
Similarly, the Redbirds (26-4) have won a pair of eight-point games against Collinsville: 61-53 on Dec. 19 in Collinsville and 50-42 on Feb. 13 in Godfrey. The Kahoks aren’t fazed.
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“We can get them. We’ve got to rebound and limit transition buckets,” said senior guard Anfirnee Wilkinson, who scored 23 points in the Kahoks’ come-from-behind 58-50 victory over East St. Louis on Friday that gave them their first regional title in nine years.
Kahoks senior Harrison Wethers predicts another tight game against the up-tempo Redbirds.
“It’s going to be a close game,” Wethers said. “We know we can beat them, though. We’ve got to keep our turnovers down and rebound with them.”
The Collinsville-Alton winner will play Normal or Rock Island in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at Pekin High. Normal and Rock Island meet in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Alton, which finished runner-up to East St. Louis in the SWC, throttled Edwardsville 44-27 on Friday to win the Edwardsville Regional as senior Carlos Anderson scored 18 points.
Anderson, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit, averages 10.5 points and is one of three Alton players in double figures. The others are seniors Darrius Edwards (13.7) and 6-foot-7 Bryan Hudson (12). Sophomore Maurice Edwards averages 8.4 points.
“They’re a very good basketball team,” Collinsville coach Darin Lee said. “They’re 26-4 and they’ve had a tremendous season. They have three tremendous players in Hudson, (Darrius) Edwards and Hudson. I don’t think it’s any secret: We’re going to continue to try to go inside. They’ve got some size, but they don’t have as much size as East St. Louis in there.”
What Alton does have is off-the-charts quickness and a tenacious defense that will pressure guards Wilkinson, seniors Brett Langley and Nic Gonet and sophomore Ronnie Midgett.
“I like to think that we’re better at handling pressure, just because we’ve seen so much of it as the season has gone along,” Lee said. “We’ve gotten a little better at taking care of the basketball, which has hurt us. We would have a few more wins if it wouldn’t have been for some turnovers in some games earlier in the season. It’s going to be a key in this game.
“We have to make sure we’re able to get the ball entered into our offense. That’s going to be the most important thing. I think (Alton) does a better job at continuous pressure on the basketball than East St. Louis does. Alton’s pressure is just a notch better.”
Redbirds coach Eric Smith said the Kahoks’ offensive versatility is a concern. Not only do they have capable guards, but have plenty of presence in the paint in 6-8 senior Emondre Rickman, an Indiana State recruit, 6-7 senior Sean Davis and the 6-3 Wethers.
“They pose a few different problems for people,” Smith said. “They can play three bigs, they can play four kids around the perimeter with a big. They have the ability to attack people in different ways, depending on how the game goes or depending on people’s personnel. We’ll have to, defensively, sit down and figure out how to guard people in the halfcourt.”
Defensively, the Kahoks will attempt to keep the Redbirds in front of them. That has been a difficult assignment for all of Alton’s opponents.
“They do a tremendous job attacking the basket. I don’t care what defense you’re in,” Lee said. “They attack the basket against the zone better than anything I’ve ever seen. They get around you and they kick it to Hudson, and he’s a great finisher. He finishes with dunks every time.”
Wilkinson has scored 68 points in the last three games and averages a team-leading 12.5 with 59 3-pointers. Midgett averages 10.7 points and has 40 3-pointers, while Rickman averages 9.4 points and 2.9 blocks. Langley ranks second on the team in 3-pointers with 58.
“We’ve got some guys that have been shooting the ball pretty well,” Lee said. “We’re definitely playing our best basketball of the season. ... We’re ready to play. We’ve got confidence we can make shots. That’s an important thing in the postseason. You’re definitely going to have to knock shots down. That’s something we were able to do in the regional.”
The stakes, of course, are higher in the sectional.
“(Wilkinson) is a kid who can score the basketball,” Smith said. “But we feel fairly confident in the fact that we’ve got some kids who have the ability to step out and guard, and we’ve got multiple kids who can do that.
“The difficult thing with (Collinsville) is they have kids who can shoot the basketball. For us to recklessly run around and try to turn them over is probably not necessarily the right approach. We’ll try to add some pressure and try to find a way to stay with shooters and hope we can limit the number of 3-point baskets they put up.”