CHAMPAIGN – Before even one second had ticked off the scoreboard clock Tuesday night at Combes Gym, the Urbana Tigers trailed 2-0.
It was that kind of game for Terrence Gray's players, who are painfully shy on varsity experience and still prone to taking their lumps as they learn. Even from the refs, who spotted one of the Tigers dunking during pregame warmups and, per IHSA rules, assessed a technical foul.
Not that Champaign Central needed the head start. Or the points. The state's fifth-ranked Class 3A team was in control of this Big 12 matchup all the way, bolting to a 23-2 lead en route to a 101-52 rout of the winless Tigers.
"We've got pretty much a whole new team this year," said Gray, who lost his top nine scorers from last season to graduation. "Even with the (current) five seniors that were on the team last year, they didn't play a whole lot of minutes so all this is still new to them.
"I know young people look at the score and they get caught up in what the score is and embarrassed. And sometimes they just give up. I tell these guys, 'You never give up. You just keep fighting.' "
For the undefeated Maroons, the goal as this lopsided contest unfolded was to stay the course. Not give into the temptation to relax or to get sloppy.
"We talked about staying focused," Central coach Scott Davis said, "and how we wanted to use this game as kind of a springboard to get better as a team and not have this as a wasted night. Try to work on some things, keep our focus, keep our intensity."
As the final score attests, the Maroons rarely eased off the accelerator. Central's point total was its highest since Game 4 of the 2005-06 season, when the Maroons rolled up 102 against Kankakee.
Even when Central switched to a clock-consuming spread offense to start the fourth quarter, the points still flowed.
"I think we did real good just staying focused and keeping going," Maroons guard Verdell Jones (23 points) said. "Especially with the fans going crazy, I think that gives a little more energy, too. But we just wanted to play hard the whole time."
Consistently comfortable leads – including 71-26 with less than three minutes elapsed in the third period – allowed Davis to run some newly installed plays and see how his team would react under game conditions.
"Coach at halftime wanted us to work on things, new plays we just put in, and keep the intensity up," Maroons guard Donald Stewart (21 points) said. "We kept pushing on them, and we succeeded on our goal."
Maroons fans had their own goal near game's end: to see their team reach 100 points. With Central ahead 99-50 and the Maroon student section pleading for at least one more point, guard Zander Culver gave them what they wanted via a driving layup.
"They wanted 100 so the team tried to give them 100 points," Culver said.
In retrospect, Davis wished his bench had been longer as the game progressed. Davis, whose rosters typically number 12, was down to 10 players in uniform. Injured forward Jerry Exum (foot) has yet to play this season. Isaiah Clasberry (knee) has been sidelined since the second game and, Davis said, might be lost for the season.
Meanwhile, a steady flow of Tigers went into – and out of – the game as Gray searched in vain for successful combinations. Besides guard Rakeem Sallee (13 points), no Tiger scored more than eight.
"We really don't have a go-to player or a lead scorer so we need for everybody to do their part," Gray said. "We're going to keep chipping away."