Alton’s Kevin Caldwell (2) is swarmed by Granite City defenders during Saturday’s Southwestern Conference game at SIUE’s Vadalabene Center. Caldwell led all scorers with 17 points and the Redbirds won 85-44.
Billy Hurst / For The Telegraph
Alton’s Malik Smith (left) drives the baseline after getting past Granite City’s Jerry Watson during Saturday’s game at SIUE’s Vadalabene Center.
EDWARDSVILLE – The Alton Redbirds did not get a championship from their season-opening Tip-Off Classic boys basketball tournament.
But the Redbirds did gain some insight.
“I think that we learned that we’re decent,” Alton coach Eric Smith said of lessons from the tourney’s loss to 6-0 St. Mary’s. “They’re good. We want to play some people in that tournament that will challenge us and they did. I thought we fought and competed and did really well against them.”
The Redbirds exceeded the decent label Saturday afternoon in an 85-44 rout of the Granite City Warriors in the second annual ‘SWC @ the E’ at SIUE’s Vadalabene Center. The opening of four SWC games to begin league play saw the Redbirds seize command immediately against the Warriors. Alton scored 13 points from its first five possessions and was never threatened.
“We usually come out sluggish,” said Alton senior Kevin Caldwell Jr, who led all scorers with 17 points. “Saturday afternoon, you just want to come out and find some energy and get a win.”
Alton, which beat Granite City 71-45 in this event last season, improves to 4-1. The Redbirds own a 12-1 record vs. the Warriors in Smith’s six seasons as Alton coach. Granite, in its final season as a SWC member, falls to 1-4 with its 18th consecutive SWC defeat.
A pair of 3-pointers from Donovan Clay and a three-point play from Caldwell put the Redbirds up 13-4 less than three minutes into the opening quarter. Alton led 22-15 after one quarter and 41-25 at the half.
The Redbirds drew off with a 20-3 run in the final five minutes of the third quarter to take a 65-33 lead to the final quarter. Caldwell finished 4 of 7 from the arc for the Redbirds, who had 12 players score.
“We emphasize that at practice, stay ready, come in and do your job,” Caldwell said of the Redbirds’ depth. “We all do that, we’ll win.”
Josh Rivers came off the bench to score 12 points, and Clay hit 3 of 5 3-pointers and scored 10 for Alton, which got nine fourth-quarter points from Brandon Droste.
“Offensively, we’ve got some kids who can do some things,” said Smith, whose team made 10 3-pointers. “One of the things we talked about coming in, it can be difficult shooting in an arena for the first time for some kids. We kind of calmed some of that down, went inside out. Our kids are unselfish on the offensive end. We pass the ball fairly well. That’s our secret sauce.”
Granite City, under first-year coach Gerard Moore, got 12 points apiece from Emmitt Gordon and Jerry Watson.
Alton, which forced 15 Granite turnovers while committing eight, returns home Friday for a SWC date with East St. Louis. The Redbirds were dominant against Granite, but not flawless.
“We’ve got to do a little bit better defensively,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be a little more tough on the defensive end. We’ll give in some possessions, give guys straight-line drives to the basket, take too many chances.
“We kind of get fool’s gold a little bit, because we take chances and end up with a steal. It’s hard to convince a 16-, 17-year-old kid the one time you get it is fine, but it’s the other five times that you don’t that causes problems. We’ll keep drilling some of that stuff and it will come. … We’re excited about where we’re at.”
ALTON 85, GRANITE CITY 44
Alton 22 19 24 20 — 85
Granite 15 10 8 11 — 44
Alton (4-1, 1-0) – Caldwell 17, M. Smith 7, Sanders 8, Clay 10, D. Smith 7, Miller 2, J. Rivers 12, Jac. Jones 2, Terrell 4, Jam. Jones 5, Droste 9, K. Rivers 2. FG-33 3FG-10 FT-9.
Granite City (1-4, 0-1) – Gordon 12, Wiley 6, Tippett 4, Moore 8, Watson 12, White 1, Mason 1. FG-17 3FG-2 FT-8.