URBANA – The first win of the season for Urbana's boys' basketball team denied Scott Davis the 300th victory of his coaching career.
For the Tigers' Deonta Jones, who scored 21 of his game-high 23 points Tuesday night during a first half when he didn't miss a shot, there was a more significant first.
"This is four years in the making," Jones said. "I hadn't beaten them yet. It took me four years to do it."
Urbana built a 14-point halftime lead but had to rally in the final minute to secure a 64-63 Big 12 Conference triumph.
Tigers coach Vashoune Russell began his motivational ploy over the weekend.
"It started on Saturday," he said. "I told them we didn't want to be on the front page (of the newspaper) with a big 300 for them."
Instead, they earned their spot of prominence based on performance.
Urbana scored the game's first six points and kept every Central player except Noah Lessaris scoreless during the opening 6 minutes, 11 seconds. By halftime, the Tigers' lead had ballooned to 38-24 and Jones was 9 for 9 from the field and 3 for 3 from the free throw line.
"The last time I had a half like that was on JV as a sophomore against Centennial," Jones said.
Central's offensive focus was on long-range shots until Davis made his points at halftime. During the first two quarters, 21 of the Maroons' 33 field goal attempts were three-pointers.
The Maroons' strategy didn't bother Russell.
"I was fine giving up threes," he said.
With 6-foot-8 Purdue recruit Jay Simpson being held scoreless by the Tigers until two minutes into the second half, Davis would have preferred some other options when his team had the ball.
"I told the kids we won't beat a team shooting 40 threes," Davis said. "The second half, we did a better job of attacking it."
Central took its first – and only – lead, 63-62, on a breakaway by Alexander Roux with 1:10 remaining.
The advantage lasted only as long as it took Urbana to bring the ball upcourt and get a shot.
Devin Carter, a transfer from Centennial, scored what proved to be the game's final points on a penetration move to the left side of the basket with 53.7 seconds remaining.
"Offensively, we had been doing a lot of things right," Russell said. "I wasn't that nervous. I was more worried about what offensive set to call."
Turns out it didn't matter. He called for one where Jones was the first option and Brandon Glass was the second. Instead, it was Carter's turn to shine.
"What went through my head was to get a good shot," said Carter, who described his emotions as "joy and happiness."
Urbana was in good position to maintain its one-point margin as the clock wound down because it had committed so few fouls (three) for the half, that it would not send Central to the free throw line by committing more. With 4.0 seconds left and with 2.0 seconds left, the Tigers fouled the Maroons after out-of-bounds plays and before the team could attempt a shot.
Russell called a timeout to emphasize that very point to his young squad (which has three seniors on the roster).
"I wanted to make sure they knew we had three fouls to give," Russell said.
In the end, an off-balance three-point attempt by Clayton Jones from the left baseline was short and the Urbana student body swarmed the court in the only boys' varsity game that will be played at Urbana Middle School this season.
It might have been just as well, Davis speculated, that Central didn't go to the line. The team converted its only toss from the charity stripe – by Lessaris – with 2:14 to play.
"We were 1 for 7," Davis said, "and they missed very few."
Urbana's free throw accuracy was 13 for 16.
Besides Jones, other double-figure scorers for the Tigers were Carter (16 points), Darrion Brown (10 points) and Glass (10 points).
Central, which does not play another home game until 2011, was led by Lessaris (19 points, 10 rebounds). Jones added 15 points and Simpson grabbed 12 boards to go with six points.
"We have to play 32 minutes," Davis said. "We only played the last 16."
Urbana plays its home opener on its high school gym court Friday, when Bloomington visits. First, the Tigers will take time to savor Tuesday's accomplishment.
"This is so sweet," Russell said. "It feels good any time you beat your crosstown rivals."