Edwardsville frustrated East St. Louis at both ends of the floor Wednesday.
Senior Jack Marinko had a game-high 37 points and four 3-pointers, and the Tigers used a triangle-and-two defense to subdue the Flyers 57-52 in a Southwestern Conference game.
“It’s always hard to play down here,” said the 6-foot Marinko, who had 19 points in the first half and 18 in the second half. “They’re very athletic. (Terrence) Hargrove and (Joe) Reece are really hard to play against. We gave the lead up, but we kept fighting, stuck together and pulled it out.”
Senior Caleb Strohmeier added 17 points for the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 SWC). Juniors Malik Robertson (two) and Lavontas Hairston (one) had Edwardsville’s only other points.
Everyone chipped in on defense, however. The Tigers defended Hargrove Jr. and Reece with a man-to-man, leaving the other players to share duties on the rest of the Flyers.
“We did a good job defensively,” Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said. “We did a good job on 34 (Hargrove) and 5 (Reece). Jaylon (Tuggle) and Strohmeier limited their touches, and that’s hard work. And Malik (Robinson) and Jack and Reggie (Wilson) did a good job of keeping the rest of the guys from getting wide-open shots.
“Our guys just really played hard defensively and executed a lot of things well, and that helped us. (Hargrove and Reece) are both good players.”
Hargrove, a 6-7 junior, led the Flyers (4-4, 2-3) with 15 points, while the 6-8 Reece and senior Traeveion Jones had nine apiece. Hargrove and Reece were a combined 10 of 16 from the field.
Hargrove said the Tigers’ defense caught East Side off-guard in its home opener.
“We have never seen them run that,” he said. “Last year, they never ran it. They always ran a simple flex defense. All of a sudden they came out with this triangle defense, and it really threw us off. We didn’t see it coming.”
East St. Louis led 18-14 after one quarter and trailed 28-27 at halftime. Marinko’s 3-pointer from the left corner beat the buzzer and put the Tigers ahead 46-39 after three quarters.
The Flyers, however, scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to move ahead 49-46. Strohmeier’s two free throws preceded a 3-pointer by Marinko that followed an East St. Louis turnover and gave Edwardsville a 51-49 lead with 1:01 to play.
Another Flyers turnover led to two free throws by Marinko, and yet another miscue led to Marinko making two more free throws that made it 55-49 with 16 seconds left.
Hargrove hit an NBA-range 3-pointer, but Marinko sank a pair of free throws with 8.9 seconds remaining to clinch the outcome.
Marinko finished 13 of 24 from the field and 8 of 11 from the line.
“Marinko, I give him props. He’s a nice player,” Hargrove said. “He gets open buckets, he creates his own shot, he plays hard. You have to give him kudos for that.”
Marinko, whose season-high in points is 41, is averaging just under 29 points.
“Jack has shot a lot of shots; he’s practiced shooting a lot. He works at it,” Waldo said. “He did a good job for us.
“This was a really good win for our guys because East St. Louis is going to win a lot of games this year. They’ve got some good players, and they’re well-coached. Being able to beat them is a good reward for our guys.”
Marinko said he isn’t feeling pressure to carry the team, but he and Strohmeier are the Tigers’ most experienced players, and they’re meeting — and perhaps exceeding — expectations. Strohmeier was 6 of 7 from the field with three 3-pointers in the victory.
“I let the offense come to me,” Marinko said. “I’m not expecting to go out there and do all this. But when the offense comes to me, I’m ready to make the play and go get a bucket. I know if I’m not making shots, my teammates can step up.”
David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm