RANTOUL — When Verdell Jones Jr. brought his Urbana boys’ basketball team into the 2019 Class 3A postseason, the Tigers were seeking to end a 30-year regional championship drought.
And they accomplished that.
One year later, the first task at hand for Urbana was one that hadn’t been completed by the program since 1942.
Securing playoff hardware in consecutive seasons.
The Tigers now can wave farewell to that drought, too.
Bryson Tatum drained four three-pointers en route to 24 points as third-seeded Urbana used some explosive second-quarter plays and relentless offense down the stretch to knock off second-seeded Mahomet-Seymour 64-48 in Friday’s 3A Rantoul Regional final.
“We’re on our way to doing what we initially wanted to do,” Jones said. “We wanted to bring respectability back to Urbana High School basketball. ... We just wanted to make the U proud, and so hopefully we’re on our way to doing that.”
Jermale Young contributed 15 points and Chris Cross banked 12 points for the Tigers (18-14), who avenged a 76-52 loss to the Bulldogs (21-11) on Feb. 11 and ended M-S’s 10-game win streak in the process.
“It motivated us a lot. A lot a lot,” Tatum said. “We feel like that was a game we shouldn’t lose, and we’ve had that throughout the season and that motivated us in the postseason.”
Even with that extra drive behind Urbana, it was the Bulldogs who landed the first punch in Friday’s rematch.
Milwaukee signee Grant Coleman bucketed a pair of three-pointers and Eli Warren added another triple as M-S dashed out to a 9-3 advantage and held the Tigers without a field goal for nearly five game minutes.
“Coach V always tells us discipline — that’s the word of the year,” Tatum said, “and just playing all 32 minutes, all four quarters, and we knew we could pull through.”
It wasn’t hard to tell when the tide turned in this game. A few Urbana students dancing at one edge of the hardwood as halftime began offered a hint to any late arrivals.
Young first converted a layup with the Tigers trailing 20-16 and 3 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Tatum followed with a similar basket 46 seconds later, though the Bulldogs’ Cole Lener responded with his own basket.
Now behind 22-20, Urbana spent the opening half’s final two minutes thrilling its supporters.
A Young three started the show. Then, 6-foot-7 Jeremiah Hamilton galloped down the floor following a Tiges turnover and stuffed M-S’s Kobe Essien at the rim, sending Essien crashing to the floor.
And Hamilton wasn’t done. He threw down a two-handed dunk after a well-placed pass from Young, then slammed home a Cross three-point miss before the ball even touched the ground.
“That ignited everything,” Jones said. “And young people, as well as adults, we feed off of energy. And when that happened, I just think they were like, ‘Oh, wow.’”
Bulldogs coach Ryan Bosch also noticed the series of plays’ impact on the final result.
“You don’t want to say the game hinged on one or two plays,” Bosch said, “... but the no call on the block at our end followed with the putback dunk, we felt a big momentum shift.”
Bosch praised his athletes for taking the events in stride during the third period, with the Bulldogs only behind 45-39 entering the last eight minutes.
“Got themselves right back into the game and had opportunities,” Bosch said. “We tried to reel them in there, but when we got close, we just couldn’t get the stop to secure it.”
Urbana then stepped on the gas as Coleman was held scoreless while five different Tigers found the bottom of their hoop.
A likely dagger was Cross being fouled on a three-point bid, which fell, and hitting the subsequent free throw to put Urbana up 55-44 with 4:17 left. Bosch also cited the Tigers’ significant rebounding edge — 12-3 — in the final period as a decisive blow.
Coleman ended his prep career with a 12-point output, while Braden Finch netted all 13 of his points in the second half for M-S and Warren added nine points.
“It was a fun season for us,” Bosch said. “But when you have nights where you don’t shoot the ball well, you’ve got to get stops to survive that.”
With yet another drought in the rear view mirror, Urbana turns its attention to Springfield Lanphier (24-9) for Tuesday’s 7 p.m. 3A Lincoln Sectional semifinal game.
The Tigers were overwhelmed by Lincoln at that stage last season. Just another piece of history they’re looking to put in the past.
“Regional is not the ultimate goal for us. Winning state is the ultimate goal,” Tatum said. “So we can’t be happy about this. We’ve got more games to play.”