NORMAL — The visiting Rochester High School basketball team missed five shots, had two others blocked and turned the ball over six times before finally getting on the scoreboard with 2:10 remaining in the opening period.
The breakthrough failed to open any scoring floodgates for the Rockets, however, as host University High School capitalized on an 11-0 start to cruise to a 70-41 Central State Eight Conference win on Friday night at the U High gymnasium.
"That's sort of been our M.O. lately, something we've got to fix going forward," said Rochester coach David Maciejewski of the Rockets' meager start that helped doom them to a third straight defeat to open the season.
"The first three games we've played we've gotten off to a slow start and tried to battle back from that for the rest of the game and we haven't been able to."
U High coach Andrew McDowell has been similarly concerned about less than stellar opening quarters lately. He was glad to break the mold on Friday night and race to an 18-4 lead before Rochester's Aaron Clare got free for a layup at the buzzer to end the first period.
"That was one of the things we focused on going into the game," McDowell said. "We've been starting really slow our last four games. We said we wanted to come out quick, so we applied pressure early, got our legs moving, got some easy baskets and then started shooting the ball with confidence after that."
Junior guard Drew Wollenschlager scored nine of the Pioneers' 18 first-quarter points before senior forward Nate Torres took the reins in the second period with nine points to help U High to a 38-20 halftime lead.
As the Pioneers' scoring runs mounted, so did their fouls. Rochester was already in a bonus situation in the first minute of the second quarter and cut its early deficit to seven from the free throw line.
"We knew going to a pressure defense that there was a risk that they would shoot free throws," McDowell said. "But we have to defend better than that. To get them in the bonus, we had three silly fouls away from the basket that gave them five or six points at the free throw line. Those are the things we've got to grow and mature and get away from the silly fouls. We could have put the game away right then. Instead, we let them back in with free throws."
Rochester's threatened comeback was short-lived, as U High launched a 12-0 run to grab its first half lead.
U High's full-court pressure in the third quarter turned its 18-point halftime lead into a 32-point cushion heading into the final frame as U High improved to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
"At halftime we talked a lot about moving our feet and staying in front and putting our hands away," said McDowell.
"They also did a great job of speeding up the ball, getting out in transition and getting some easy baskets."
Alex Wood led U High with 19 points, while also contributing three steals to Rochester's turnover woes.
Torres scored 15 points and added eight rebounds, many of them coming on the offensive end in the second period. Wollenschlager also had eight rebounds to go along with his 13 points.
Lucas McCafferty led Rochester with 11 points.