URBANA — The optimist would say Urbana's boys' basketball team won half a game Friday night in its Big 12 Conference opener against the defending league champions.
The pessimist would say the Tigers are headed toward what could be a seventh consecutive sub-.500 season.
The optimist would say that coach Vashoune Russell's team is five wins away from a significant milestone, the 1,100th win in the program's 95-year existence.
The pessimist would point out that the school hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons in the sport in 21 years.
Whatever view is taken on the game at Urbana's Oscar Adams Gymnasium, this is the barest of facts — Normal Community posted a 67-54 victory in a game it led by 24 points before the Tigers pulled within nine with less than two minutes to play.
An Urbana team that managed 27 points in the first three quarters doubled that total in the final eight minutes. Urbana won the second half, 39-36.
"When they realized, 'I can play with them,' it was too late," Russell said. "It's frustrating, but it hurts more than anything. The attitude has to be we'll stand toe-to-toe and knock you out with our best punch in the beginning."
Darrion Brown led the Tigers (1-4) with 13 points. P.J. Blissit had 11 and Jerrod Webster 10, including seven in the final period.
"We have four guys who can put the ball in the basket, but we get stagnant," Russell said. "Offensively, there's no movement. Defensively, it's helter-skelter. We have that much talent, but the sense of urgency is not there."
Normal Community (3-2) used a 23-3 run over 11:29 of the first half to take a lead it would never lose. From the time Blissit's two free throws gave Urbana a 7-6 lead until Cole Hoffman nailed a three-pointer with 1:32 left in the half, the Ironmen had rolled into a 29-10 lead.
Russell sized up the difference in one area.
"Community makes the extra pass and gets guys wide open," he said. "We don't (make the extra pass) and get charges called."
Central 46, Normal West 44. Chris Freeman's rebound basket with 2.1 seconds to play broke the final tie and lifted Central to a two-point victory in Normal in the Big 12 opener for both schools. Corvon Butler, who missed the shot that Freeman rebounded, had a double-double for the Maroons (3-2) with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Clayton Jones hit all four of Central's three-pointers and scored a team-high 17 points. Jordan Caroline added nine points and six rebounds.
Central led 38-26 after three quarters but committed six of its 22 turnovers in the final period as the Wildcats rallied and had the ball in a tie game with 20.6 seconds left before Freeman's steal returned it to Central, which hosts Urbana on Tuesday.
Danville 64, Mattoon 42. Jaron Cunningham scored a game-high 24 points as the Vikings won their first game of the season. Devyn McGuire added 14 points for a Danville team (1-5) that outscored the Green Wave in every quarter.