By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MACOMB, Ill. -- Illini West has a little bit of experience playing the underdog role.
The past two seasons, the Chargers have been unseeded in the Macomb-Western Holiday Tournament, but have knocked off the top seed in the quarterfinals en route to second-place finishes.
The Chargers hope they can do it again following Wednesday's 52-26 first-round victory over Lewistown at Western Hall.
Illini West will play second-seeded Eureka -- a 47-30 first-round winner over Macomb -- at 8 p.m. Thursday at Macomb High School. All of Thursday's games will be played at the high school since the Western Illinois University men's basketball team is playing a home game Thursday night.
"We talked a lot about that in the locker room after the game today," Illini West coach John Hughs said. "This is the third year in a row we've been unseeded but it hasn't really mattered because we've beaten the last two No. 1 seeds. We're looking to do the same thing this year."
Illini West (3-3) will need a little crisper, more efficient effort against Eureka.
The Chargers forced Lewistown (1-11) to make 32 turnovers, but made 26 of their own. Despite scoring the game's first 13 points and leading 17-7 after the first quarter, Illini West scored only five points in the second quarter to lead 22-8 at halftime.
The Chargers were a tad lackadaisical in the second quarter.
"We didn't come out after the first quarter ready to play," said Illini West senior Levi Kirby, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. "We played good defense early in the game and got some shots to fall early in the game. In the second quarter, we weren't in their shorts as much and we didn't have many shots fall."
That changed in the third quarter as the Chargers out scored the Indians 22-9 to take a 44-17 lead.
"Coach told us at halftime we had to do a better job holding on to the ball and taking it to the basket," said Illini West senior Brody Gronewold, who scored a game-high 14 points. "We did a pretty good job of that and that gave us some breathing room."
Instead of merely forcing turnovers, the Chargers started to take advantage of those miscues. Illini West scored 14 of its 22 third-quarter points off turnovers, while getting their two starting forwards -- Kirby and Ethan Neally -- involved in the offense.
"We've talked a lot about getting those big guys involved and how important that is to our offensive flow," Hughs said. "We also do a pretty good job of playing with a sense of urgency at times but we're not doing it often enough. We're playing a lot of guys who don't have a lot of varsity experience. It's still a learning process for us."