JERSEYVILLE • The Alton High girls basketball team spent most of its recent practice time working on defense.
It showed on Wednesday.
The Redbirds used a smothering stop unit to knock off McCluer North 56-50 in pool play at the Deck the Halls with Basketballs Tournament in Jerseyville.
"We had three solid days where we worked almost exclusively on solid, basic defense," Alton coach Tammy Talbert said. "And we played our best defense of the season in the first half today. We pressed them full court and were able to turn them over and get some good looks ourselves on offense."
Alton led 34-20 at halftime thanks to its success at the foul line. The Redbirds attempted 26 free throws while the Stars tried just three.
"I knew we were at the line a lot," Talbert said. "I didn't know there was that big of a difference."
McCluer North coach Patrick Dougherty was aware of the ratio.
"I've never seen such a lopsided difference," Dougherty said. "That's a lot of free throws they shot."
The Stars had everything going against them in the second half, but still managed to make a late run.
It was the second game of the day for McCluer North, which defeated Carrollton 42-38 earlier. The Stars were in foul trouble and their top scorer, freshman Samia Johnson, sat out most of the fourth quarter.
But the Stars charged back in the final period, cutting what had been a 12-point deficit to five in the first minute.
McCluer North would get as close as three, but Ivoree Lacey hit three late baskets and Ryan Talley made four straight free throws to preserve the win.
"It got close at the end and I concentrated on making my shots and layups," said Lacey, a sophomore who is in her first year on the varsity. "I thought it was an excellent win for us tonight."
Lacey was the go-to person for the Redbirds in the second half scoring 10 of her 16 points. Diarra Smith had a huge first half scoring all 18 of her points for Alton, which improved to 5-6.
Ayanna Gibson had 14 points and Johnson 12 for the Stars, who fell to 4-6.
"We came out flat tonight," Dougherty said. "But, I felt that we matched their energy level in the second half and battled back. The key early was the free throws and we let them control the tempo. We needed it to be more of a half-court game."