COLLINSVILLE — He remains a novice to Southwestern Conference boys basketball, but first-year Alton coach Eric Smith grasps the significance of three straight conference wins.
No. 3 in that run came Friday night when the Redbirds reeled off a devastating 18-0 second-half run and then held off the Collinsville Kahoks 50-47 at Fletcher Gym.
“That’s three conference wins,” Smith said. “That’s a big step for us.”
That the last two came over O’Fallon at Panther Dome and Collinsville at Fletcher is a nice back-to-back road kill for a Redbirds program coming off a 1-13 finish in the SWC a year ago.
It’s just a little taste of the SWC for Smith, but he likes what he sees.
“Absolutely and we’re going to enjoy it Friday night when we go play East,” Smith said. “There are not a lot of kids that get the opportunity to play in these kinds of gyms with these kinds of crowds. It’s pretty special.”
Alton, which meets conference front-runner Belleville East on Friday, improves to 5-3 and 3-1 in the SWC. Collinsville falls to 4-4 and 1-3 in the conference.
The Kahoks, who had won seven of the previous eight games vs. Alton, used a 10-0 second-quarter run to lead 28-22 and took a 32-27 lead to halftime. Freshman Zeke Moore hit a 3-pointer to give Collinsville its biggest lead at 35-27 in the opening minute of the third quarter, but then the Kahoks went cold.
Alton closed the quarter with a 10-0 surge to lead 37-35. And the Redbirds feeding frenzy carried into the final quarter when Tyrome Parker, who had a tomahawk jam in the first half, scored the final six of his team-high 18 points to put Alton up 45-35.
“The thing we talked about with the kids was our ability to stir it up a little bit and maybe make them play a little bit faster than they wanted to,” Smith said. “They are very well-coached, they play hard, but we needed to find a way to make our athleticism take over in the game. I thought our kids did that.”
It was a brutal stretch for the Kahoks, who were 0-for-13 from the field, including 0 of 5 from 3-point range, and committed seven turnovers in a scoreless stretch that reached 10 minutes, 14 seconds.
“We had 13 straight missed shots?,” Kahoks coach Darin Lee asked before a long pause. “You’re not going to win many games like that. … The third quarter, we didn’t run any offense and we took a lot of poor shots.”
Lee then asked how many turnovers his team committed. The answer – 19, including 12 in the second half – brought a similar look and response.
“You’re not going to win games like that,” Lee said. “We couldn’t get the job done. There’s not much excuse for it.”
A’Basa Brown added 11 points and Carlos Anderson had nine for the Redbirds, who shot 38 percent (20 of 53) from the field, including 2 of 13 from the arc. The Redbirds were 8 of 16 from the foul line and made 13 turnovers.
Alton led 48-37 on Larry Givens’ 3-pointer with 4:26 left in the fourth quarter. But with Alton still shooting without hesitation, the Kahoks got an eight-point boost from Falando Wilkinson and responded with a 10-2 run to draw within three points (50-47) with 1:56 left.
“For the most part, that’s the way we’ve got to play,” Smith said. “We’re not going to be a walk it down the floor, grind it out type of team. We have to be aggressive. I know that’s not necessarily the traditional way to handle certain points of the game. Time and score has a lot do with it, but for us to be successful we have to stay aggressive.”
With Alton three times missing the front end of a one-and-one in the game’s final 43 seconds, Collinsville had opportunities to tie but could not convert.
The Kahoks shot 40 percent (17 of 43) from the field. They made 6 of 19 3-pointers after converting 5 of their first 10, and made 7 of 10 free throws.