CHAMPAIGN — Dedric Byrd saw an opportunity to atone for a glaring mistake and seized it.
Elapsed time of the Centennial guard’s transformation from potential goat to actual hero: 16.2 seconds.
“I felt kind of bad that I put my team in a bad position,” Byrd said, “so I just had to make up for it.”
The 5-foot-9 junior did so with a buzzer-beating, driving layup at the end of a topsy-turvy game, lifting the Big 12-leading Chargers to a 53-51 win against tenacious Normal West.
“Pookie’s good at getting into the paint and making something happen,” said Centennial coach Tim Lavin, referring to Byrd by his nickname. “And he made it happen tonight.”
With 16.2 seconds left, Byrd put his team in a bind by fouling Adam McGinnis as the Wildcats sharpshooter sank his fourth three-pointer of the fourth quarter and sixth of the game.
When McGinnis hit the ensuing free throw to complete a four-point swing, the game was tied at 51.
Centennial still had time to respond, and the first option was to get the ball to forward Michael Finke (team-high 16 points) in the lane and let the Illinois recruit do his thing.
“We felt that the middle was open when we were passing the ball,” Lavin said. “And with Finke in there, let’s be patient and move it and look middle and try to get it there with four, five seconds to go and get a shot.”
But with the ball in his hands as time was running down, Byrd spotted an opening to the basket.
“The first thing I thought was go to the basket and try to get a foul,” he said. ”I saw an angle to the rim, so I threw it off the glass.”
Byrd scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a 5-for-6 performance at the foul line that staved off the rallying Wildcats.
“He made some free throws and obviously a big play at the end,” Lavin said.
Centennial scored the first 10 points of the game en route to a 26-13 halftime lead. The Charger advantage grew to as many as 17 points, at 33-16 with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
But Normal West stormed back behind McGinnis (21 points).
“To their credit, they made big shots,” Lavin said. “When you get momentum going like that sometimes it’s hard to stop.”
Central 74, Eisenhower 70. Chris Hutchinson had 17 points and 11 rebounds as the visiting Maroons won their second straight. Cam Rowan had 16 points, six assists and six rebounds, and Xavier Martin had 13 points.
MacArthur 70, Urbana 47. Donald McKinley paced the visiting Tigers with 16 points and five rebounds. Cole Hoffman added nine points for Urbana, which played without Michael Thompson (broken nose) and Marcus Catchings (broken wrist).
Bloomington 64, Danville 44. Denzel Smith scored 18 points for the visiting Vikings.