Pressure pays off for Vikings

URBANA — Danville’s press was a way to impress.

The Vikings are looking for something other than points when they start boys’ basketball games with full-court pressure.

“We’re trying to find a way to loosen them up,” coach Ted Houpt said. “There’s the energy it creates, not to mention the turnovers.”

The results were all positive Tuesday for the Vikings at Judge Fred Green Court as Danville erupted for 34 first-quarter points and 50 by halftime in a 79-66 triumph against the Tigers.

The opening-game press is something Houpt resurrected.

“We tried it before and got beat on it, and maybe I went away from it too soon,” Houpt said.

The press didn’t force an eye-popping number of turnovers. Urbana lost the ball nine times in the 32-minute game, but Houpt got the results he wanted.

His energized team came out firing and drained 10 of their first 13 three-point shots while building leads as large as 27 points (41-14) in the Big 12 Conference game.

A squad that started the night with twice as many losses as wins is starting to turn the corner.

“When you go through difficult times, you find out if you’ll stay together or go different directions,” Houpt said.

His team is still on the same page.

Denzel Smith scored a game-high 28 points — 13 in the opening quarter — and was backed by 20 points from Jarhed Watson, 12 from Kylen Butler and 11 from Anthony Thomas.

“The streak we’re on, we’re running into buzz-saws. Everybody’s knocking downs shots and we’re not making them,” Urbana coach Vashoune Russell said.

The Tigers made less than one-third of their shots. Danville’s accuracy rate was over 60 percent overall and not less than 50 percent in any quarter.

“They’re not afraid to shoot it and they shot it well,” Russell said.

With a 50-28 halftime lead, Houpt said there was little to discuss.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to rebound better,’ but aside from that, with a 20-point lead, you don’t want to be too negative,” he said.

Urbana pulled within 13 points by game’s end, giving Houpt a new area of concern.

“Now we have to deal with how to handle big leads,” he said. “I’m glad we have that problem, but we need to address it. We gave up way too many easy baskets.”

The Tigers’ Conner Gremer was a one-player wrecking crew. He grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds — eclipsing the career high of 17 he had last week — and led Urbana with 19 points.

Russell called Gremer one of the team’s success stories.

“If you saw him as a freshman, you’d never thought he’d be a basketball player,” Russell said, “but he took time in the weight room, took time on his diet and has gotten better as an athlete.

“He has fight. He has grit. I wish other guys had that. He took a year off (as a junior) from football and got himself physically fit. Now, he’s strong as an ox. He does it night in and night out. He’s one of those kids who has stepped up his game.”

With scoring leader Marcus Catchings missing his fourth consecutive game with mononucleosis and Russell unsure when — or if — he will return, the Tigers have been looking for others to pick up the slack.

Junior Korrion Taylor came off the bench against Danville and had a team-high eight assists. Shimaaz Ivy scored 12 points and Moaso Bumba added 11.

Urbana held a 39-34 rebounding edge, a fact that didn’t please Houpt, who started players standing 6-foot-7, 6-6 and 6-4.

“If I’m disappointed in anything, it’s our inability to keep them off the boards,” Houpt said. “They’re quick to the ball.”

The 6-4 Gremer pulled down eight of his rebounds on the offensive end.

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