EDWARDSVILLE – Take it from Darrius Edwards of the Alton Redbirds. They were at their finest Friday when the Birds walloped Edwardsville, 65-32, in a Southwestern Conference boys’ basketball game at Lucco-Jackson Gym.
“It’s one of the best games we played all season,” said Edwards, a 6-foot senior. “We worked pretty hard and defensively, we were all over them.”
Edwards scored a game-high 17 points to power the Redbirds, 22-4 overall and 10-2 in the SWC. Alton swept Edwardsville in league games this season. The Tigers dropped to 15-10 and 7-6.
East St. Louis, meanwhile, clinched a tie for the conference championship by defeating O’Fallon, 83-67. The Flyers own a two-game lead over Alton. Both teams have a pair of league games to play.
Redbirds’ coach Eric Smith seconded Edwards’ emotion about the team’s stirring performance against the Tigers.
“It was a complete game and one of the best we have played this season,” Smith said. “We went out and did what we talked about doing all week in practice. We attacked the basket.”
Bryan Hudson contributed 12 points and Carlos Anderson pitched in 10 points for the Redbirds, who made 27 of 52 shots. They scored the game’s first seven points and never looked back. Hudson supplied a pair of dunks while Edwards had a dunk, plus a pair of treys.
“Everybody played hard and we just came together,” Edwards said. “Give credit to our coaches because we played smooth.”
Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said the Redbirds were impressive from start to finish in handing the Tigers an uncharacteristic lopsided loss.
“They are really good and they don’t give you anything easy,” he said. “It was hard for us to score and their size and length caused us problems. Their defense was pretty good.”
A.J. Epenesa led the Tigers with 14 points and teammate Mark Smith had 11 points. Yet Edwardsville made only 12 of 37 shots and committed 16 turnovers, five more than Alton.
Edwards pointed to the Redbirds’ sense of urgency in blasting the Tigers. The conference rivals could meet again March 6 in the title game of the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional. The Redbirds are seeded first in the four-team regional and the Tigers are seeded second. Quincy and Granite City round out the regional field.
“Coach told us to play every game like it’s our last game and that’s the way we played tonight,” Edwards said. Alton led 16-8 at the end of the first quarter and 32-16 at half. By the end of the third quarter, the Birds increased their advantage to 49-22 and the rout was in play.
Edwards added, “I was pretty happy with the way I played. I had a couple of steals for baskets and knocked down some shots.”
Smith said, “We had a good start and that set the tempo for the game. Our kids played hard defensively and they played hard for all 32 minutes. We had a lot of contributions tonight and we have a lot of kids that can do different things.”
No fewer than 10 Redbirds scored, including Dalon Henley with a fourth-quarter dunk.
“It’s a good conference win for us in a rivalry game and a case of doing what we were supposed to do,” Smith said.
Waldo noted, “Tonight, we ran into a team that played very well. They have a lot of depth and they are a complete team."
Next up for the Redbirds is a conference date Tuesday at Belleville West. They’ll welcome O’Fallon next Friday and then get ready for the Edwardsville Regional.
ALTON 65, EDWARDSVILLE 32
Alton 16 16 17 16 – 65
Edwardsville 8 7 7 10 – 32
Alton (22-4, 10-2) – Darrius Edwards 17, Carlos Anderson 10, Bryan Hudson 12, Maurice Edwards 7, Isaiah Thurmond 4, Nigel Harris 3, Demonte Wigfall 2, Lavonte Hobbs 6, Jordan Golley 2, Dalon Henley 2. 2FG-23 3FG-4 FT-7 PF-12
Edwardsville (15-10, 6-6) – A.J. Epenesa 14, Mark Smith 11, Dan Marinko 2, Oliver Stephen 3, Monty Sharpe 2. 2FG-9 3FG3 FT-5 PF-8