NORMAL — A muscular 6-foot-4, University High School senior Nate Torres appeared to have a physical edge on undersized Decatur Eisenhower before Tuesday’s Central State Eight Conference basketball game even started.
Once play commenced, the Pioneers recognized that advantage and Torres exploited it as U High rolled to 67-46 victory at U High Gymnasium.
“I realized I was a little taller than a lot of the guys on the other team,” said Torres, who scored 27 points despite sitting out the fourth quarter. “My teammates told me to get aggressive early. I stayed aggressive and they found me whenever I called for it.”
The Pioneers, who moved to 11-6 overall and 6-2 in league play, stumbled out of the gate with three turnovers and five missed shots before scoring a point. Yet once U High broke the seal, the points flowed freely.
Eisenhower (6-11, 3-6) led 5-1 but the Pioneers outscored the Panthers, 19-5, the rest of the opening quarter for a 20-10 cushion.
“We started pretty bad,” Torres said. “I got blocked and stepped out of bounds. Rough start, but I had to stay in it and keep going.”
Torres tallied 12 points in the first period and 21 by halftime — just one short of the Eisenhower team total — for a 34-22 U High lead at the break.
“They do a good job changing their defense up. Alex (Wood) did a good job acknowledging what defense they were in and getting our guys in proper spacing,” said Pioneers coach Andrew McDowell. “From there it was moving the basketball, and our guys really trusted each other on offense.
“We told our guys it was one of those games where Nate was going to have the dump down layup. Alex and Drew (Wollenschlager) and Trey (Mortimer) got in there and found him. Every time that defense came, they made the proper pass, which happened to be to Nate for a wide-open layup.”
Torres connected on nine shots in a row after missing his first attempt.
“We have a lot of good players,” Torres said. “So they had to guard them and they (his teammates) found me.”
Torres grabbed 14 rebounds and Wood seven as U High dominated the boards, 41-26.
The Panthers steered clear of the inside for the great majority of the first half, firing up 19 of their 23 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
A R.J. Walker 3-pointer to open the second half brought the Panthers within nine. But a Wollenschlager three-point play and a Logan Christensen 3-pointer helped U High extend its lead back to 20.
Wood added 10 points for U High.
Lunden Cook topped Eisenhower with 15 points, while Walker scored 11.