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NORMAL — Normal West High School was in a zone defense. Bryson Cowper was simply in a zone.

The Champaign Centennial guard scored all 16 of his team's points in the third quarter Friday night, including a late 3-pointer to give the Chargers a 40-39 lead heading into the final period.

Brian Cupples had seen enough. The West coach had his team abandon its preferred zone for a man-to-man. "Our secondary defense," he called it.

It proved to be a primary reason the Wildcats responded with a 12-0 run and went on to a 59-52 victory in the Big 12 Conference opener at West.

Cowper, who finished with 30 points, had one point and was 0 for 5 from the field in the fourth quarter against the defense of Drew Wollenschlager. 

"Drew did a good job of slowing him down ... contesting him and making him work," Cupples said.

On the other end, 6-9 West junior Francis Okoro scored seven points in the 12-0 surge. Junior guard Nate Duckworth had the other five on a layup and a 3-pointer as the Wildcats (3-2) built a 51-40 lead. Centennial (2-4) did not get closer than five after that.

Okoro finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, making 10 of 13 shots from the field.

"All the credit to the coaches," he said. "They're really doing a good job of trying to figure out how to make the team go. They've been putting in a lot of stuff and trying to improve the chemistry. I see guys stepping up and making my job easier."

Duckworth added 13 points, while Wollenschlager contributed nine points and eight rebounds. He went 4 of 6 from the free-throw line in the final minute to help seal the win.

The Wildcats were efficient offensively, making 24 of 40 field goal attempts for 60 percent.

"I was happy with our offense. The things we spent time on this week, we made an effort to do," Cupples said. "It's not a finished product, but we made a better effort to do those things."

West was 7 of 13 in the first quarter to Centennial's 2 of 11 and the Wildcats led, 16-5. Cowper began to get going in the second quarter, scoring 10 points and hitting two 3-pointers to help the Chargers close to within 27-24 at the half.

Cowper then put on his show in the third quarter. He was 6 of 7 from the field, 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and sank a free throw.

Teammate Tommy Makabu added 18 points on the night, with he and Cowper accounting for 48 of the Chargers' 52 points.

"We knew coming into the game they had taken 102 of their 170 shots," Cupples said. "Still we didn't locate them (in the zone). We thought it would be easy to locate them, but we didn't. To their credit, they're really good players.

"We don't want to blow 16-5 leads. We hope we don't do that anymore. But it was good to see us gain our composure and finish it off."

Makabu managed eight points in the fourth quarter, which saw the Chargers go 3 of 15 from the field.

"No. 24 (Makabu) and No. 10 (Cowper) are tough," Duckworth said. "In our zone it's a lot harder to keep track of them. The man helped us do that and we shut them down."

Centennial coach Tim Lavin said his Chargers "need to find some other guys who can score besides Bryson (Cowper) and Tommy (Makabu)."

"Other guys had some good looks that didn't go," he said. "We're not real deep and we get tired. They had that little run there and we just couldn't recover." 

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred



Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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