NORMAL – University High School’s boys’ basketball team, seeded 7th when the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic tournament started the day after Christmas finished in 7th place on the third day of the tourney with a 66-32 victory over Machesney Park Harlem on Dec. 28 in a game played at Normal Community West High School.

U-High extended their record to 8-5 following the win, which included owning leads of 14-4 after one quarter and 26-8 at the half. The Pioneers, behind lead scorer junior forward Angelo Bernal’s 15 points on the night, extended that lead to 49-21 by the end of the third quarter. U-High sank 11 three-pointers during the contest. Bernal was joined in double-figures by senior guard Drew Wollenschlager’s 13 points and 11 from sophomore guard D. J. Starr. This game was the second of two Dec. 28 starting with the contest against Peoria High.

Pioneers Force Overtime Against Peoria High: U-High found themselves facing Machesney Park Harlem after losing in overtime to Peoria High at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, falling to the Lions, 65-58. After trailing at the end of the first quarter, 15-14, and leading at halftime, 24-21, The Pioneers found themselves in charge for most of the third quarter until a basket by Lions sophomore guard Lerone Allen tied the game at 33-all at the 4:01 mark. From there, a trio of unanswered threes – two from Allen and one from senior guard Christopher Williams – closed out the third quarter putting the Lions in front, 42-33.

U-High started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run which started with a trey from senior guard Logan Christensen, reducing Peoria’s lead to 46-40. A free throw by senior forward Joe Brown and a trey by Christensen helped U-High come within two, 46-44, and prompted Peoria High head coach Dan Ruffin to call timeout with 3:35 left.

A trey by sophomore guard Nate Moore with three minutes left and a free throw from junior center Dionysius Hogan pushed the Lions in front, 50-46, prompting U-High to call time with 1:37 left. Coming out of the timeout, Wollenschlager hit a trey to help the Pioneers pull within one, 50-49, with 1:07 remaining in regulation. Coming out of the timeout, Hogan’s jumper with 59 seconds left, put the Lions up, 52-49. Christensen scored a game-tying three with 39.2 seconds left, forcing the game into a 52-all overtime.

The Pioneers found themselves in chase mode throughout the extra stanza, only coming as close as two points behind twice, 56-54 on a breakaway basket by senior guard Alex Wood and 58-56, thanks to a deuce by Christensen. After Christensen’s bucket, U-High called a timeout, but coming back into play, the overtime belonged to Peoria, which saw Hogan hit a deuce and a free throw followed by Lions sophomore guard Staishaun Kelley making 3-of-4 free throws after being fouled twice, putting the Lions’ victory within reach.

Pioneers Fail To Overcome Rock Island’s 4th Quarter Scoring Run: The Pioneers managed to maintain a basket-for-basket ratio for most of three quarters against second seed Rock Island in U-High’s second game of the tourney Dec. 27 – that is until the fourth quarter.

Prior to the fourth quarter, Pioneers trailed the Rocks 13-11 after one quarter, led at the half, 27-22, and found themselves behind at the end of the third quarter, 35-32. Treys by Wollenschlager and Christensen, and senior guard Brandon Merritt helped the Pioneers keep pace with their opponents. But after Pioneers junior forward Angelo Bernal opened the last quarter with a deuce to pull within one of Rock Island, 35-34 with 7:48 left in the contest, two back-to-back unanswered baskets for the Rocks by senior forward Solomon Gustafson lit the fuse on a 16-0 scoring surge which didn’t end until Wollenschlager’s next basket with 51.8 seconds remaining, cutting Rock Island’s lead, 51-36.

Senior guard Alijah Walker-Lee scored the Rocks’ final points which were quickly countered at the final buzzer for U-High with a trey by senior guard Caden Overton. But that loss sent the Pioneers attempting to claim 5th place in the tournament with the Peoria Lions as their next opponent. Against Rock Island, senior guard Alex Wood was U-High’s lone player in double figures with 11 points. Rock Island’s scoring leaders were junior guard Colton Sigel and senior forward Taurean Holtam who scored 13 points each, and 11 from Gustafson.

Pioneers Need Overtime To Win Opening Game Against Chicago Kenwood: The Pioneers trailed Chicago Kenwood during their opening round contest Dec. 26 but managed to corral the Broncos midway through the third quarter, or so they thought. After trailing 12-9 after one quarter and 27-24 at the half. U-High would catch and surpass the Broncos going into the fourth quarter leading, 42-37. But in that final quarter, U-High would find themselves behind again by as much as six, 51-45, on a trey from Kenwood junior guard Martin Kenall. From there, a pair of deuces from Pioneers sophomore forward Kenall Stork helped tie the game, the last of the two shots coming with 50 seconds in regulation.

The Pioneers started the overtime by going on a 6-0 run highlighted by two deuces from Wood and a deuce between those from junior guard Brandon Merritt, pushing U-High in front, 57-51. From there, both sides’ defenses tightened but Kenwood fouls would send Stork to the free throw line twice and Merritt once for a combined 4-for-6 putting the game out of reach for the Broncos and sending the Pioneers on to the second round against second seed Rock Island.

“We had a five point lead going into the fourth quarter but we came out a little sloppy in that quarter and Kenwood took the lead and ran it up by 6 and our guys just stayed together, executed, fought for defensive stops, and possession by possession, we fought for wins on offense and defense and ended up getting right back in the game,” U-High head coach Andrew McDowell explained afterward.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 29th, 2019 at 10:51 pm and is filed under State Farm Holiday Classic, The Normalite, U-High. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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