DECATUR — Yansyn Taylor and Cameron Rowe each knew how badly Eisenhower needed a win.
The senior and sophomore, respectively, came up big in the final 40 seconds of Thursday's 56-50 Central State 8 conference win against Normal U-High to give the Panthers their third win in a row.
Rowe made three free throws in the final 40 seconds and Taylor came up with a key block of U-High's Mark Widdel to preserve a four-point lead with 20 seconds left and snagged a rebound with 7.5 seconds left.
“I think that finished off the game," Taylor, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, said of the block. "I saw they had a bigger guy on one of our little guards so I had to step down and help."
Eisenhower (10-14, 6-9) has struggled in close games this season, and with two weeks left before regionals, the magnitude of a win wasn't lost on Rowe, who had six points.
“That's a big win for us," Rowe, who had a bag of ice on the jammed finger on his left hand after the game, said. "That's our 10th win and we really needed it with regionals coming up. We just have to stay positive and keep it going."
It was the best Eisenhower coach Rodney Walker has seen his up-and-down team play this season, and it came in the third game in a five-day span.
Eisenhower used its entire roster on Tuesday and had four players in double figure — K.J. Taliferro had 14, Taylor had 12, Keon Jones had 10 points and seven rebounds, and R.J. Walker had 10.
“A win is a win this late in the year," Rodney Walker said. "This was some of the better basketball that I've seen us play offensively and defensively.
"We used everybody. The guys are starting to finally understand what we want defensively and offensively and that's the key. We got in a little funk the last four minutes, but that's something we can fix."
Eisenhower used stifling defense to force 13 U-High (10-16, 6-9) turnovers.
As a result of the Eisenhower defense, U-High coach Andrew McDowell saw his team playing faster than it typically does.
“They want to speed you up," McDowell said. "In the first half we sped up. We gave up 35 points in the first half and it was because our offense was so quick. We wasted all of our energy to get a shot off and defensively we were drained so it was a layup line for them."
Though Eisenhower never trailed in the second half, U-High tied the game at 50 with 2:02 left, the Panthers struggled to find an answer for U-High's 6-foot-3 tandem of Widdel and Mark Torres.
Widdel led all scorers with 21 points and pulled down 11 rebounds and Torres added 14 points and six rebounds.
Taylor, who stands 6-4, drew the assignment of trying to contain the Pioneers' twin towers.
“They were big and they were physical, but I'm one of the bigger guys on our team so I had to step up," Taylor said.
“It's the little things. I was trying to see which spot I could get to and who I could help out so we could get the win."
Three, three and more threes
Eisenhower connected on seven triples in the game, with six coming in the first half.
The Panthers were 7-of-15 from 3-point land.
RJ Walker and Taliferro each knocked down three apiece and Rowe buried one.
U-High made 3-of-16 attempts.
Tough to stop
Taliferro was on fire before suffering an injury midway through the third quarter.
He was 5-of-6 in the game, and the one miss came on a transition layup.
But in his absence Jones and Taylor stepped in.
“They're an aggressive team, an athletic team," McDowell said. "We couldn't stay in front of (Taylor) or (Keon Jones). They couldn't stop us on the block and we couldn't keep those guys from getting to the win."
Closing it up
The Panthers have seven losses of five points or fewer this season.
Closing out games hasn't been strong, but Tuesday was a good sign ahead of regionals.
“They're starting to buy into it defensively and that's starting to get results closing out these games that we weren't early in the season," Rodney Walker said.