NORMAL - After sleepwalking through the first half Friday night, the University High School basketball team received an eye-opening pep talk from Coach Cal Hubbard.
"They lit the fuse in the old man," Hubbard said. "I just didn't think we played with any emotion in the first half. We just kind of went through the motions. We have some kids sick and some other kids who weren't interested."
The Pioneers came to life in the second half and shut down Rantoul's 3-point attack to claim a 53-45 Corn Belt Conference victory.
"We came out really flat with no emotion," said U High senior guard Seth Doran. "Coach kind of got after us and forced us to play a little better, and we played with a lot more intensity in the second half.
"They were shooting lights out in the first half, and our defensive intensity was terrible. The second half we played a little better and got out on the shooters."
U High, improving to 12-13 overall and 7-6 in the Corn Belt, held Rantoul (4-20, 3-11) to three points in the third quarter to extend a 31-29 halftime lead to 39-32. The Pioneers hit 8 of 12 free throws in the final period to secure the victory.
Doran and fellow senior guard Drew Miller, members of U High's state champion golf team which was honored at halftime, led a balanced Pioneer attack with 10 points each. Matt Anderson and Jeff Higgins added eight points.
each for U High.
"We don't have a standout guy on this team," Doran said. "It takes a team contribution."
U High outscored Rantoul 19-1 from the free throw line and only committed six turnovers to offset a 28-21 rebounding deficit. The Pioneers shot 43 percent (16 of 37) from the field.
"We played much better in the second half," said Hubbard, who coaches U High's state champion girls golf team which was also part of the halftime celebration. "We were able to turn it around and get some stops. We weren't doing as much chasing and not guarding.
"Offensively we were doing some really good things. Defensively we were as bad as we've been all year. We changed defenses and that helped a little bit, but more than that, the kids just had a much better attitude in the second half for some reason."
Sophomore forward Greg Cannon was 7 of 15 from behind the 3-point arc and led all scorers with 21 points. The Eagles shot 45 percent (10 of 22) from 3-point range but only 33 percent (16 of 48) overall. Aaron Jake added eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds for Rantoul
"Every time we'd stop and call a timeout we'd talk about getting the ball inside," said Rantoul coach Chris Wagner. We know what U High is going to do. They're going to pack it in and invite us to shoot the three. They fell in the first half, and they didn't fall in the second half. It played right into their hands."