Alleman coach Pat Rangel had no trouble stating the obvious Thursday night.
His Pioneers had just lost 75-61 to United Township in a game the Panthers led from the opening tip and were never really threatened.
“Very tough,” Rangel said of the Panthers. “Very disciplined. Very well coached. There’s no surprise why they are undefeated.”
UT isn’t just undefeated at 10-0 (4-0 Western Big Six). The 10-0 start is the best for the program since the 1973-74 season.
“It means a lot,” Panther coach Ryan Webber said of the team making its mark in the UT record book. “It was something that was definitely talked about around school.
“It’s exciting. We have so much respect for the coaches and players and program that have come before us.”
The Panthers got 24 points from Tray Buchanan and 19 from point guard De’Ante Walker, plus 10 each from Devynn Wakefield and Izaya Sims. They sprinted to 6-0 and 18-6 leads before closing with six straight points for a 24-9 first-quarter lead. UT forced Alleman into 13 first-half turnovers with its ball-press defense that undid the Pioneers before they could really get settled.
“I think our guys came out really hungry and aggressive,” Webber said. “We played with a high energy level and the Panther Den was electric tonight. It was fun to be in here.”
“We just treat every game the same,” Buchanan added. “We just want to go out and compete and come out with a win.”
Walker, who had five fast-break layups along with two 3-pointers, was clearly ready to play.
“We prepared for them like we could get beat,” he said. “We just came in here and did our thing.”
Alleman (5-7, 0-4) slowed it down a bit in the second quarter and began to find a few shots, but never got closer than 10.
A 13-0 UT run from the end of the first quarter to the first few minutes of the second quarter increased the Panther's lead to 31-9 before Alleman scored 11 straight. A 3-pointer by Devynn Wakefield from beyond the top of the key as time ran out put UT back up 36-23 at halftime.
“I think Alleman played really well, too,” Webber said. “Two teams were really playing at a high level out there and making shots. That’s what these nights in the Western Big Six are all about.”
Alleman left the game feeling halfway good about itself, too. The Pioneers got 18 points from Collin O’Keeffe and 17 from junior Andrew Barrett, who also had three steals.
“I was real pleased with Barrett’s play. Collin O’Keeffe stepped up in place of Ryan Hodge’s minutes,” Rangel said, noting Hodge was out with an injury, the extent of which is not yet known.
But it was definitely the Panthers’ night — a night aided nicely by a 19 of 20 night at the foul line — with Buchanan making all eight free throws that he took.
“We knew what we were coming into all week,” Buchanan said. “We’ve been watching film on them. We knew how they were going to play. I am just glad my guys came out and battled the whole game and came away with the win.”
UT held Alleman's Nathan Graves without a shot in the first quarter. Graves finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. UT won the rebound battle 27-24, getting nine from Wakefield.
“We feel great (heading into the Pekin Tournament)," Walker said. “We just can’t take any team lightly in that tournament. We just got to play teams (the way) we are now.”