URBANA — Perhaps Vashoune Russell should give Urbana forward Kaleb Smith a pep talk before every game.
The Tiger coach's words of encouragement Friday certainly had the desired result.
In an early appearance off the bench, Smith fired in 10 first-quarter points and went on to score a career-high 18 to propel Urbana past Mattoon 70-52 at Oscar Adams Gym.
"Every night that I've said something to Kaleb about having a big game, he's come out and had a big game," Russell said. "He did it against Danville (eight points, six rebounds Feb. 3), and he did it tonight."
Smith shot 7 of 10 from the field and was 3 for 3 from three-point range to lead all scorers in the Big 12 game.
"I just try to do the best I can, listen to Coach, watch for the defensive calls and just play my game," the 6-foot-4 junior said.
Russell recalled emailing Smith's mother several times during the day Friday to pass along his high expectations of Katrina Kindle's son.
"I said, 'You know what? Kaleb has the potential to really be a true leader. I think he just has to step up and do it,' " Russell related, adding "He's a junior, and coming back next year he's probably going to be one of the go-to guys."
The Tigers needed several go-to guys to secure this win. Clinging to a 36-34 halftime lead, Urbana began the second half with a 12-2 run sparked by Jerrod Webster's eight-point salvo. Four other Tigers also scored during the tide-turning third quarter, when Urbana outscored the Green Wave 20-8 to build its lead to 14.
"I think we just realized we've got to pick it up," said Smith, who contributed five points in the third period. "We played a lot harder."
The win was Urbana's third in a row and moved its Big 12 record (6-5) above .500 for the second time this season.
Meanwhile, Mattoon absorbed its ninth straight Big 12 defeat. The Green Wave is moving to the Apollo Conference after this school year.
"They'll be sorely missed because they do play the game hard, and that's what I like to see," said Russell, who competed against Mattoon in several sports during his Tigers career. "I always knew that it was going to be a game. They're never going to roll over. I don't care what their record was.
"They were going to come out and play hard. That's what I'm going to miss about them. "
Normal West 60, Danville 54. The Vikings took a 33-27 halftime lead against the Big 12 co-leaders but couldn't hang on in a home loss. Dennis Hightower scored 20 points for Danville.
Bloomington 67, Centennial 56. Michael Finke had 17 points and Phillip Wright and Devin Carter added 14 apiece in the road loss.