NORMAL — The weight of being ranked No. 3 in Class 3A seemed to burden Springfield Lanphier High School’s basketball team for much of Tuesday’s game at University High.
The wing-footed Lions, however, took flight after facing a 23-21 halftime deficit to win the Central State Eight Conference contest, 58-55, in overtime.
“U High is a good team,” said Lanphier coach Blake Turner, whose squad was deadlocked with the Pioneers after four quarters at 53-53. “Alex Wood is one of the best guards in the conference.
“Their coach (Andrew McDowell) does a great job. He has them well prepared. We knew we weren’t going to come in here and blow them out. This is a team that you’ve got to give it your all against.
"This conference is a conference where there are not too many nights you can take off, especially going on the road.”
Wood and Mark Widdel led U High with 13 points apiece and Nate Torres added 11. Wood had a 3-pointer with 1:12 left in regulation to pull the Pioneers within 52-51. He sank two free throws with 28.2 seconds to go to force overtime.
Lanphier, which will host U High on Feb. 9, improved to 16-2 overall and 10-1 in the league while the Pioneers fell to 10-12 and 6-6.
“We knew Lanphier is good,” McDowell said. “They are the class of this conference for a reason. Our kids were ramped up and ready to play them to see where they stack up in the Central State Eight.
“I think we stack up really well. We need one to go our way. A lot of the close ones against the top teams in the conference haven’t gone our way. Tonight was another example of that. It hurts not getting this game. We thought we had it.”
Lanphier’s Cardell McGee had 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals while teammate James Jones had 11 points and 12 boards. Karl Wright keyed the Lions’ defense with nine blocks including one against Trey Mortimer with 10 seconds left in overtime.
“(Wright) was a human eraser,” said McDowell, whose team shot 32.7 percent from the field and got outrebounded, 42-29. “I didn’t think we shot it great tonight.”
A McGee free throw opened the scoring in overtime. Widdel, who finished with nine boards and two steals, sank two free throws with 2:56 left to give U High its final lead at 55-54.
Stanley Morgan gave Lanphier the lead for good by drilling a 3-pointer with 2:39 remaining. Wright ended the scoring with one free throw.
The Lions bolted to leads of 9-3, 13-5 and 17-10 before U High played one of its better five-minute sequences of the season. The Pioneers’ 13-4 half-ending run began with two Joe Brown free throws to cut the gap to 17-12.
A rebound basket by Jones gave Lanphier a 19-12 cushion with 4:39 left in the second period. At that point, Doug Holmes sank his second 3-pointer, Widdel added a basket in traffic and Caleb Diffor chipped in a 3-pointer to put U High top, 20-19.
Wright answered for the Lions, but Keenan Portis retaliated with a 3-pointer for U High to make it 23-21 with 12 seconds left in the half.
U High forced 23 turnovers, but committed 18.