Redbirds force 23 turnoversin 58-35 victory over Lancers
By Louie Korac - For The Telegraph
Alton’s Malik Smith (left) scored 14 points in his team’s Southwestern Conference home win over Belleville East Tuesday night. He is shown in action against Granite City earlier this season.
Telegraph file photo
GODFREY — The Alton Redbirds are still waiting to hit their stride shooting the basketball. But if the Redbirds continue to play defense and keep handling the basketball without error, those elements make up for less than stellar shooting.
Alton didn’t shoot it particularly well Tuesday against Belleville East, but the Redbirds did play defense. They forced 23 turnovers and handled it as well as possible with just five miscues, and Alton used big runs in the second and fourth quarters to pull away from the Lancers, 58-35, in Southwestern Conference play at Alton High School.
Alton (7-1, 5-0) kept pace with conference favorite Belleville West, a 72-50 winner over O’Fallon, and goes into the holiday break tied for first in the conference. Both the Redbirds and Maroons will play in the Centralia Holiday Tournament after Christmas.
“Our main focus should be on defense though because we’ve got a lot of guys that can score the basketball,” said Alton junior forward Malik Smith, who led all scorers with 14 points. “… That’s really good for us (holding East to 35 points). We need to keep up the defense and focus on that.”
The Redbirds, after a bit of a slow start falling behind 12-11 after the first quarter, limited the Lancers (5-5, 1-4) to four second-quarter points and included a 12-0 Redbirds run to turn a 16-14 deficit into a 26-16 halftime lead.
Alton also outscored Belleville East 20-4 in the fourth quarter and limited the Lancers to just 2 of 17 shooting in the second and fourth quarters while forcing 23 turnovers for the game.
“We did some things a little bit better tonight,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “At halftime, we were still a little bit concerned because we just take too many chances. We take ourselves out of plays. We’ll guard hard for one or two passes and then we try for the easy way out to get a steal. We’ve got kids that can play if they. We’ve just got to commit to sitting down and guarding and if we do that, I think we’ll be alright.
“Against teams that are going to move the ball a little bit more and do some different things against us, we’ve got to do a little bit better job.”
Alton, which was coming off a 81-75 overtime victory over Collinsville, balanced the scoring a little better Tuesday than it did against the Kahoks, where only four players accounted for the 81 points.
After four players scored last Friday, Alton put 10 players in the scorebook, including senior guard Kevin Caldwell Jr. with 12 points and junior Donovan Clay’s 11 points off the bench.
“A lot of people scored tonight, which is good,” Malik Smith said. “In the Collinsville game, only four people got in the boxscore. We’ve got to do better and just keep moving the ball and getting our open shots.
“We’re doing really well and everybody’s just unselfish. It shows and it helps a lot with the team and in our offense.”
What was most impressive for an Alton team that likes to push the tempo and play at a high pace is the Redbirds took care of the basketball, only turning it over five times.
“They pressed us a little bit, but obviously at the beginning, we had a little trouble getting into our offense,” Eric Smith said. “But we’ve got some kids we can put on the floor that can do some things with the basketball. That’s not necessarily a total surprise. The only thing it does kind of mean to me is the same thing we talked to them about at halftime, that tempo was terrible for us. If we have a little bit higher turnovers, we understand that because we usually means we’re trying to play a little bit faster.
“… Tonight’s games are the ones we’ve kind of struggled with the last couple years. Finals, got out of school early, we didn’t have a huge student section. We told them before the game the formula scares us a little bit because we came out a little flat. Those have been ones that have kind of scared us in the past, but it just shows our kids. Our kids are resilient. Theyll fight and they’ll compete. It’s kind of showing in our record.”
Alton held Belleville East, which got 10 points from senior Laylen Lacey, to 29 percent from the floor (10 of 34) but was just 19 for 54 itself (35 percent).
“Our percentage has not been good, but we still scored 58 tonight and that’s probably our lowest point total for the season so far,” Eric Smith said. “We still score points, but we hope at some point in time our shooters are going to shoot a little bit better percentage-wise.
Playing four of the first five conference games at home means the Redbirds have held serve defending their court. To stay at the top of the conference, Alton will now have to become as coach Smith said, “Road warriors.”
“When it comes down to it, they did their jobs,” Eric Smith said. “They held the fort for the first half. We’ll give them a couple days here where they can get back to being healthy because we’re kind of beat up. But we’ve played some really good teams. We’ve played some OK basketball. There’s obviously some room for us to improve. I think we feel good about where we’re at. The kids are genuinely excited about where we’re at and what the possibilities are for them to accomplish some things.”
“It’s good to keep pushing forward because we know we’ve got some big games coming up,” Malik Smith said.
ALTON 58, BELLEVILLE EAST 35
East 12 4 15 4 — 35
Alton 11 15 12 20 — 58
Belleville East (5-5, 1-4) — Lacey 10, Barnes 2, Williams 2, May 3, Hughes 2, K. Waller 2, Yates 6, Adams 8. 2FG-7, 3FG-3, FT-12, PF-19.
Alton (7-1, 5-0) — Woods 2, Sanders 2, Caldwell 12, Miller 5, K. Rivers 2, D. Smith 4, Clay 11, J. Rivers 4, M. Smith 14, Jam. Jones 2. 2FG-14, 3FG-5, FT-15, PF-12.