Alton juniors Malik Smith and Donovan Clay made 3-pointers 47 seconds apart in the fourth quarter to lift the Redbirds to a 61-52 win over O’Fallon on Friday at the Alton Tip-Off Classic.
Looking to advance into the title game, O’Fallon led 52-47 with 3:30 remaining following a short jump shot by Ronnie Anthony. But Smith ended an Alton scoring drought of nearly five minutes with a 3-point jumper.
Following a free throw by senior Kevin Caldwell, Clay made his 3-point jumper with 1:35 remaining to give Alton (3-0) the lead for good.
“The turning point? Energy. It’s that simple,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “When we played with energy tonight, we were able to get things done. But for a large portion of the game, I was wondering if we had a case of turkey hangover. We were very sluggish.”
Smith and Caldwell scored again as Alton ended the game on a 14-0 scoring run and moved into the tournament championship game Saturday against St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis at 7:30 p.m.
O’Fallon (1-2) will play Carnahan (Mo.) High School in the fifth-place game at 4:30 p.m.
The Panthers controlled the tempo for most of the night and led by as many as 11 points in the first half before settling for a 26-21 halftime lead.
Alton used a 26-19 advantage in the third quarter to take its first lead, but baskets by Teron Bowman, Nick Boone and Ronnie Anthony in the opening three minutes of the final period put O’Fallon up 52-47.
It didn’t last.
The Panthers shot just 3 of 15 from the field in the final quarter. They missed all six of their 3-point attempts in the period, most of which came in desperation in the final minute.
“We had some really good looks early in the fourth quarter but the shots just didn’t fall. We also had some costly turnovers,” Panthers coach Brian Muniz said. “They hit some big 3-point shots.
“I was pleased with our effort. I thought we controlled the tempo for most of the game. Unfortunately, you can control the tempo for 90 percent of the game and still come up short.”
Getting four points each from Jalen Hodge and Anthony, O’Fallon led 15-7 after one quarter. That lead expanded to 25-14 on an offensive putback by Robert Hayes with just over three minutes left in the half.
But Alton, which converted on just 2 of 7 free throws in the first two quarters, ended the first half on a 7-1 scoring run. Senior Kevin Caldwell hit a 3-point shot, and Donovan Clay banked home a 10-foot jumper to bring the host Redbirds to within five.
Defense was a key for O’Fallon in the first half as Alton was whistled for four offensive fouls.
Anthony and Bowman each scored 13 for O’Fallon, while Hodge added 12.
Smith had a game-high 16 to lead Alton, and Caldwell pitched in 15.