Althoff coach Greg Leib hasn’t given in to discouragement, even as the losses have mounted for his inexperienced Crusaders.
Leib instead has insisted all along that the Crusaders were getting better, and evidence of that came Thursday when they held off Alton 71-63 in the consolation semifinals of the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
The victory was the second in the past 12 games for Althoff (4-14), which will play Belleville East for the consolation championship at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“The guys just did a super job,” Leib said. “We went nine deep, and all nine guys contributed in a positive way. We’re just blessed to have that. We try to utilize that.
“The guys hit shots, they were patient, they got each other some good shots in rhythm. I’m real pleased. This has been tough for them — competing, competing, competing and keep getting knocked down. It’s a great testament to the guys. They keep believing.”
Junior Khalifah Muhammad led the Crusaders with 18 point and three 3-pointers. He also made all seven of his free throws. Senior Melvin Brock and sophomore Greg Wells chipped in with 11 points apiece.
“Finally,” Muhammad said. “We’re thankful for the win. We played a good game.”
Muhammad said losing 10 of 11 games was made more bearable “because my teammates are like brothers.”
“We keep going, keep going, keep going,” he said. “Coach says every day that we get better and better. We’ve become more of a team.”
Althoff grabbed the lead for good at 22-21 when Brock hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Alton made a late run, closing within 61-56 with 2:03 to play. But the Crusaders dug in and re-established a 71-60 lead before a late 3-pointer by Alton (10-7).
“It was just a calamity of errors,” said Alton coach Eric Smith, whose team has dropped six of seven. “We didn’t guard anybody. It was bad. Nothing else to be said.”
Junior Malik Smith led the Redbirds with 22 points and three 3-pointers. Junior Donovan Clay had 15 points, while senior Darrell Smith had 13 points.
Smith said his players might have been looking past Althoff.
“I think we had some kids that thought, ‘Tonight was going to be my night to pad some stats,’ and they got hit in the mouth,” Smith said.