CHAMPAIGN — Tim Lavin didn’t give Michael Finke a break. Neither did Decatur MacArthur.
Centennial’s Finke played all 36 minutes of Tuesday’s 60-55 overtime triumph against the Generals, one of the Big 12 Conference’s hottest teams.
The UI recruit hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final 8:44, ending with a game-high 28 points in a game where he was the center of attention.
“He was getting held, pushed, grabbed, and a lot of kids would have backed down,” Lavin said. “He kept making plays.”
The 6-foot-9 junior didn’t mind the contact.
“I took a beating, but I love it,” he said. “It’ll be worse in the Big Ten. There were a couple (fouls) I thought should have been called.”
The win keeps the Chargers in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 ahead of Friday’s city showdown at Central’s Combes Gymnasium.
Coming off a loss in their last game (Friday at Normal Community), the Chargers found themselves trailing 36-27 before three minutes had elapsed in the second half.
“We had a never-give-up attitude,” said Finke, whose game-high 12 rebounds gave him a double-double. “It was one basket at a time, then one stop at a time.”
Lavin acknowledged the significance of the win prior to the matchup with a local rival.
“This was big for us in the conference and big for our confidence,” the coach said. “I hope we continue to play well.
“It’s nice that we had a good game here. MacArthur had been playing well (with wins in eight of its last 10 games).”
Against Central, the Chargers will need to do what they hope to accomplish each game.
“We’ve got to stay under control and not let the emotions get to us,” Lavin said.
Centennial junior Dedric Byrd — who was being scouted by Wisconsin-Green Bay — was the only Charger to score in double figures besides Finke. The point guard had 18 points to go with five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
One of the game’s key plays didn’t involve the scoring of any points. With the score tied 52-52 in the final 30 seconds of regulation, Chargers senior Mike McCray forced a turnover on defense while guarding his player for five seconds.
The call came after the Generals had run more than a minute off the clock while holding for the final shot.
“When Mike is focused and doing what he is asked to do by the coaches, he does a pretty good job,” Lavin said.
Centennial was unable to take advantage and get a shot off before time ran out, but a rebound basket by Finke with 1:49 left in OT lifted the Chargers into the lead for good, 56-55.
Finke said he won’t place extra meaning on Friday’s game against an opponent the Chargers defeated by 19 points on their own home court.
“For us, it’s just another game,” he said.