EDWARDSVILLE – Freshman Christian Jones led the way with 18 points, but it took a blocked three-point shot right before the final buzzer to give Granite City a 50-47 win over Edwardsville at Lucco-Jackson Gym Friday night.

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It was a hard fought and nip-and-tuck battle in which Granite City rallied from a 25-21 halftime deficit to lead by as much as nine late before a Tigers’ rally fell just short in the end.

“Yeah, real tough game. We’re hurting,” said Edwardsville coach Dustin Battas. “We didn’t give ourselves the best chance to win, tonight. Some things that we haven’t done the last couple of games, mistakes we haven’t made. We’re hurting tonight. Obviously, we struggled offensively, had some shots around the rim we missed, we had some plays that we executed actually pretty well, we just missed the basket. I just thought we made a few mistakes that have been uncharacteristic of us. So, I told the guys the only thing how to do, the only thing we know how to do is just practice tomorrow and try to fix those mistakes.”

And the good thing about the mistakes made in the game is that everything’s correctable, and the Tigers will be raring to get back to work and get things cleaned up.

“Yeah, and we have guys that want to learn,” Battas said, “we have guys that are very unselfish. We just have to put them in positions where they can do their best, and practice helps with that, preparation helps with that. We told our guys that our schedule is not easy. These are tough teams that we’re playing, and Granite’s 5-2, and we’re disappointed, as we thought we had a chance to win this one and just a few things we didn’t execute as well as we have been really hurt us down the stretch.”

Granite coach Gerard Moore was very happy with the win, especially in a rivalry game going back to when both teams were in the Southwestern Conference before the Warriors withdrew at the beginning of the season. They’re playing this season as an independent. It was the first win for the Warriors over the Tigers since Jan. 25, 2002, at Granite’s Memorial Gym, when Granite won 39-37. It was also the Warriors’ first win at Edwardsville since Dec. 3, 1999, when the Warriors won 49-48.

“Oh, man, you know, a rival game, Edwardsville at Edwardsville, big crowd, the section’s excited, the other section excited, what an atmosphere, man,” Moore said. “That was a big win for us for two reasons. We needed this to go into next week, and then to the Collinsville tournament; we wanted to have momentum. And the other reason why it was a big win, we had not beaten Edwardsville for I don’t know how many years. And to beat our rival on their floor in front of their crowd is really, really exciting.”

Moore gave the Tigers tremendous credit in slowing down the Warriors.

“I’m going to give Edwardsville all the credit,” Moore said. “I’ll tell you what, I came here, and I scouted them four times, and I couldn’t come up with a good game plan, because they are so smart fundamentally, and they are sound. But tonight, what we did, they tried to slow us down, and we’re not a very good team playing slow. So we had to dig in and really try to speed up the game to give us a chance to win it, and we thought late in the second quarter that maybe we can speed them up. After watching Belleville West play them, I didn’t think we could. Our speed really helped us; we were able to speed them up at the end, and got some steals and got the lead.”

And Jones responded with his big game to help the Warriors.

“There’s a reason why I played a freshman out there,” Moore said. “You’ve got to be good if you’re a freshman in a game in an environment like this. And we trusted him to make a few big shots, and he did that. He helped us, he helped us. He’s big time.”

The game started out in a tight defensive battle in which the teams exchanged only one basket each – Brennan Weller for the Tigers and Justin Wiley for the Warriors – in the first four minutes plus. After an Edwardsville timeout, Lavontas Hairston made a nice spin move to the hoop and scored to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead, but a basket by James Grote and a three from Jones gave Granite a 7-4 lead. A three-point play from Weller retied the game, but a nice spin move by Wiley led to a basket to put the Warriors back on top. A Malik Robinson free throw left the Warriors with a 9-8 lead at the end of the first.

Wiley connected on a three-point play to extend the Warrior lead to 12-8 at the start of the second term, but then the Tigers went on a 9-0 run on a basket from Weller, a three from Robinson, another Weller basket and a pair of Nic Hemken free throws to give Edwardsville a 19-12 lead. Zidane Moore hit a three on the side to end the run, and the teams scored six points each at the end of the quarter as the Tigers led 25-21 at halftime.

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The Tigers extended their lead to 29-23 at the start of the third quarter, but the Warriors then went on a 10-0 run with Jones, Devontay Mason and Freddy Edwards leading the way. Edwards tied it at 29-29 on a three-ball off a rebound, and the Warriors went ahead on a Jerry Watson drive to the goal. Moore extended the lead on a basket before a pair of Robinson free throws cut the lead to 33-31. A second chance basket by Jones and a three from Moore gave Granite a 38-31 lead at three-quarter time.

The Warriors started the final quarter by taking a 42-33 advantage before the Tigers rallied, getting free throws from Robinson and a basket from Weller to cut the lead to five at 42-37. Mason put the Warriors back up by seven, and free throws from Hemken and Ethan Young cut the lead back to 44-40. A pair of Weller free throws following a Warrior free throw made it 45-44 with 1:37 to play, but a Mason drive made it a three-point game 47-44 with 1:10 left. A Mason free throw with 37.6 seconds left extended the Warrior lead to four, and the Tigers couldn’t score underneath, which lead to a Watson lay in to make it 50-44. Robinson hit a clutch three with 6.3 left to cut the lead to 50-47, and the Tigers called their final timeout. A rebound gave Edwardsville one last chance, and they quickly got the ball to Robinson, who’s three-point shot was blocked, and the ball bounced away as the buzzer sounded to end the game, giving the Warriors the 50-47 win.

Weller was the only Tiger in double figures with 23 points, while Robinson had eight and Hemken seven. Besides Jones’ 18 points, Wiley had nine and Moore added eight for Granite.

Battas gave credit to the Warriors’ defense, who with aggressive play led to many Tiger turnovers.

“They did. Granite played very well defensively, made it hard for us to get open looks,” Battas said. “We just mishandled the ball a lot more than we have been, and missed open guys. That was due to their pressure, I’m sure. But we’ll work on those things and try to get better at them.”

The Tigers, now 2-5 on the season, host East St. Louis next Wednesday night in their final game before the Prairie Farms Collinsville Holiday Classic in a 7:30 tip. And Battas knows that the Tigers will be ready to go,

“Yeah, we play East St. Louis on Wednesday,” Battas said. “So we don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves, and I told our guys all year, nobody’s going to feel sorry for Edwardsville. Everybody is competitive in our league, and the Collinsville tournament will be really competitive. And so, we’re going to practice. That’s been our recipe for success here, and it always has been as long as I’ve been around and coach (Mike) Waldo’s been around is to practice and get better every day. And we are going to start that tomorrow.”

The Warriors host Carbondale next Friday night in their final game before the Collinsville tournament, and they have a very simple goal going in.

“Well, we’re hoping to go into Collinsville 7-2,” Moore said, “That’s our goal, I said before the season started that we felt like we had a chance to go in there 7-2, and if we can accomplish that, we should have good momentum going into there. Hopefully, we can play well in Collinsville enough that we can steal two games because as you know, that Collinsville field is loaded. Our first matchup is another rival of ours, Belleville East.”

Which will be the last game of the opening night of the tournament, starting at 9:30 p.m. Moore has a plan to prepare for that.

“We’re going to have 9:30 practices all this week, so we can try to get prepared for that,” Moore said with a smile.

And Moore thought that the win was one of the most important of his coaching career.

“I’ll tell you what, man, in my coaching career, this had to be the most rewarding thing for me,” Moore said, “because of who we just beat, and being able to not beat them for all these years, it’s really good for our community. And I’m happy about that.”

Dan Brannan also contributed to this story.

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