CHAMPAIGN — A rope barrier was no match for Champaign Central's student fandom Friday night at Combes Gym.
Not after seeing four years of pent-up frustration finally exorcised in the recently lopsided Battle of Champaign.
As the final buzzer sounded, nothing was going to prevent Central students from flooding Cabutti Court to celebrate the Maroons' no-doubt-about-it 62-43 victory against crosstown rival Centennial.
And who could blame them? Before Friday night, no Central student — not even the current seniors — had experienced a boys' varsity basketball victory against the Chargers.
"I know Central fans have been waiting," Maroons coach Scott Davis said after his team ended a 10-game losing streak in the series. "I get text messages. I get phone calls, and it's nice to get a win for them."
Central senior guard Clayton Jones was still an eighth-grader the last time the Maroons defeated Centennial. He was in the stands that night, watching older brother Verdell and the rest of a state tournament-bound Central team best the Chargers 81-69 in a Class 3A regional final on Feb. 29, 2008.
"A lot of people doubted us," Clayton Jones said, "and we came together and got the win. Words can't describe how I feel right now. I'm so happy, excited."
With the long-awaited win, Central moved back into a share for the Big 12 lead after dropping out three days earlier. The Maroons' win, combined with Normal Community's victory against Normal West, created a three-way tie atop the conference standings at 8-2.
But on this night, the real excitement in Central's camp was ending that long crosstown drought.
The Maroons led wire-to-wire after scoring the first six points. Senior forward Corvon Butler, who was on the other side of this rivalry last season before transferring to Central, propelled the Maroons out of the gate with 11 first-quarter points. By the end of the period, Central already led 17-6.
"It was all (a credit) to my teammates," the 6-foot-5 Butler said. "They got me the ball inside. ... They saw the mismatch down low so I just took it."
Butler was far from done, finishing with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field.
"The guy's a monster," Jones said. "I love that dude. He plays hard, brings it every game."
Central's defense played a starring role, too. The Chargers were pressured into 14 turnovers in the first half and did not reach double figures in points until the 3:02 mark of the second quarter.
"I thought defenisively we did a very good job of pressuring the ball," Davis said, "and we did a much better job this time of finding where the ball needs to go, and that's inside. They had trouble with our interior offensive play, and that was the key."
Centennial finished with 20 turnovers.
"Turnovers has hurt us all year long," Chargers coach Tim Lavin said. "To their credit they got out and really pressured us and we didn't handle it very well. And when we're turning the ball over we're not a very good team. That was pretty obvious tonight."
Senior guard Devin Carter led Centennial with 15 points and a game-high eight rebounds.