CHAMPAIGN — It seems unfitting to describe a 6-foot-8 high school basketball player as overlooked, so let’s call Centennial’s Luke Vaughn underrated.
He’s one of seven seniors on the Chargers’ state-ranked team, but he plays alongside a future Big 12 athlete (Michael Finke), a ballhandling wizard who can also score (Dedric Byrd) and a three-point marksman who on Friday drained three consecutive three-pointers in a 2-minute second-half spree (Jeffrey Lavin).
He’s the guy who pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds in a Big 12 Conference game at Combes Gym as the Chargers defeated city rival Central for the 12th time in the last 14 meetings, 70-54.
He’s the guy who got the ball at the high post and when a defender converged on him, passed off to Finke underneath to convert a layup. Three times.
What else is he to do?
“Michael, he’s Illini Nation. If I give it to him, he’ll make it,” Vaughn said. “If I take it, there’s a chance I’ll miss.”
Central gave him that opportunity.
Vaughn is the guy who got the ball at the high post and when a defender stayed to double-team Finke, drained the 15-foot shot. Two times.
“When Luke plays hard, he gives us a lot,” Centennial coach Tim Lavin said. “He’s such an added dimension, whether he’s passing or posting up.
“We have something nice here. He’s brings that physical presence.”
More than that, when he plays alongside the 6-9 Finke, Tim Lavin said, “not many teams can match up with two kids that big.”
In the rematch — with the student body from each school chanting “Champaign, Champaign” — the Chargers trailed once. Former Charger Christopher Hutchison converted a rebound basket to put Central in front, 8-6.
The lead lasted as long as it took Byrd to get downcourt, maneuver around defenders and score on a penetration move. Elapsed time: 10 seconds.
Twenty seconds later, a Vaughn-to-Finke high-low pass continued Centennial’s 13-0 run.
The Maroons were never closer than eight points in the final 23:30.
“In the first half, we were 0 for 10 on three-pointers and, for the most part, those were open looks,” Central coach Scott Davis said. “We were not hitting them with no one within 3 feet of us. On the other hand, Michael (Finke) can hit three-pointers with a man in his face.”
Central scored two of the first three second-half baskets, but before a momentum shift took place, Jeffrey Lavin drilled three three-pointers in a span of 108 seconds and the Chargers’ lead ballooned to more than 20 points for the first time.
“We were stagnant offensively, and he gave us a lift,” Tim Lavin said. “He works hard on it. Before practice. After practice. On weekends. A game like this should get his confidence back.”
On a night his team hit more than 50 percent of its shots and held a 37-25 rebounding advantage, Tim Lavin was most pleased by his team’s approach.
“At our place, it was pretty lopsided. Sometimes you take things for granted, but we didn’t,” he said. “Defensively, we were pretty good and forced them to take a lot of tough shots.”
Finke and Vaughn both finished with double-doubles to lead the Chargers. Finke scored 25 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.
Vaughn had 14 points along with his 15 rebounds. Byrd had 15 points on 7-of-11 accuracy.
Central’s Hutchison led his team in scoring (14 points) and rebounding (eight). The 6-foot-4 athlete, who spent two years at Centennial, had more offensive rebounds than any player in the game (five).
“He has struggled lately, and it was nice to see him step up,” Davis said. “It was a tough three or four games for him. Maybe it was added motivation (going against his former team).”
Hutchison was the Maroons’ lone double-digit scorer. Teammates Kameron Rowan and Isiah Rowan each added nine points.
A near-capacity crowd of 1,400 included one of Central’s greatest players of all time, Clyde Turner, who said he couldn’t recall seeing another game at Cabutti Court since he led the 30-4 Maroons to third place in the 1969 one-class state tournament.
While Turner might not have enjoyed the outcome, Vaughn certainly did.
“We came out strong and showed that Centennial is the best team in Champaign,” he said.