GODFREY – The Alton Redbirds are back in the Alton Tip-Off Classic championship game.
The Redbirds earned a trip to the title game of the eight-team round robin tournament after coming from behind to beat the O'Fallon Panthers 61-52 in their final game of pool play on Friday at the AHS Gymnasium.
Alton placed first in Pool B with a 3-0 record and won all of its games by double digits. Now, the Redbirds will look to end their first week of the season with a tournament championship.
They will take on the St. Mary's Dragons, who won Pool A with a 3-0 mark, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the championship game. St. Mary's won last year's tournament title, edging Alton 60-59 in the title game.
The Redbirds opened tournament play on Monday with a 69-46 win over Riverview Gardens. They beat Ritenour 85-71 on Wednesday.
Friday's game marked the Southwestern Conference opener for both Alton and O'Fallon. Last year, the Redbirds beat O'Fallon twice in league play to finish 7-7 in the SWC.
On Friday, Alton outscored O'Fallon 14-0 in the final three minutes of the game to advance to the title game against St. Mary's, which beat Althoff, Carbondale and Carnahan in pool play.
So far, junior Malik Smith has been the Redbirds' top scorer in the tournament, pouring in 52 points after three games. Against O'Fallon, he led a balancing scoring attack with 16 points, including 12 in the second half. He scored 14 points against Riverview Gardens and a game-high 22 against Ritenour.
Smith started the 14-0 run by hitting a 3 pointer with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter. The trey cut O'Fallon's lead to 52-50.
After Smith tied the game at 52-52 with a basket with 2:31 to go, junior Donovan Clay gave the Redbirds the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 1:36 remaining.
Clay finished with 13 points, senior Kevin Caldwell, Jr., scored 15 points – including 10 in the second half – and junior Josh Rivers added 11.
Caldwell, an all-Southwestern Conference selection a year ago, has scored 43 points after three games. Clay has scored 30.
O'Fallon dropped to 1-2 and will play Carnahan in the fifth-place game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Panthers started tournament play on Tuesday with a loss to Ritenour before bouncing back to beat Riverview Gardens on Wednesday.
O'Fallon stormed to 6-0 lead after the first two minutes of the game. The Panthers led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter and took a 26-21 halftime lead.
Alton rallied to take a 47-45 lead after the third quarter after Caldwell scored on a conventional 3-point play with 52.8 seconds left.
O'Fallon responded with a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter to lead to 52-47 before the Redbirds came back with their big run to win the game. The Panthers were held without a point in the final 3:45 of the game.
Teron Bowman scored 15 points with 3-pointers to lead O'Fallon. He opened the game with a 3-pointer.
Also for the Panthers, Ronnie Anthony had 13 points and Jalen Hodge – another all-Southwestern Conference selection from last year – had 12 points.
Riverview Gardens will play Althoff in the seventh-place game at 3 p.m. Saturday and Ritenour and Carbondale will square off in the third-place game at 6 p.m.