RANTOUL — Two high schools that swapped 20-point wins with each other in the regular season started the Class 3A boys' basketball playoffs with a one-point decision.
Centennial came out on top over Urbana, 55-54, thanks to a three-pointer by Taylen Alexander with 15.7 seconds left that created the final score.
Alexander's basket from the left baseline gave the Chargers (12-16) their second lead of the game against an Urbana team that scored the game's first eight points and trailed for just 26 seconds prior to the late trey.
"We had a horrible start," Alexander said. "We weren't ready for the energy they were bringing."
Until hitting the first game-winner of his varsity career, Alexander wasn't the game's hotshot. He was 2-for-8 from the field.
"He took some shots that were rushed and some he probably shouldn't have taken," Centennial coach Tim Lavin said, "but that's a senior stepping up at a huge time."
Out of timeouts, Lavin called a play from the bench. The first option was for Devin Carter to drive to the basket.
"They double-teamed him and he hit me for an open shot," said Alexander, who was one of four Chargers to score in double figures.
The Tigers' aggressiveness early was reflected in five rebound baskets — which came from four different players — in the first 17 minutes.
"What I said to the boys was that we controlled the game for the whole time," Urbana coach Vashoune Russell said. "For 31 minutes, we controlled the game.
"We gambled on defense and left him (Alexander) open for a wide open shot. In hindsight, is that the shot you want to give up? Yeah, it is."
The Tigers (12-13) had a final shot, but Lawrence McMillion's inside shot between two defenders was off-target and the game ended with a no-call.
"It was one of those things," Russell said. "We didn't get a call at the end."
Russell said that wasn't the first time he felt something was missed. Brandon Glass was unable to return to the game for the final 14 minutes after getting a gash over an eye.
"He'll probably need 20 stitches to close it up and we don't hear a whistle on that," Russell questioned.
A key turning point occurred with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter and Urbana holding a 35-20 lead. The Tigers forced a 10-second violation on Centennial, but instead of getting the ball out of bounds, Donald McKinley was assessed a technical foul for celebrating.
"I don't understand the call," Russell said. "He was excited. It was not at all a celebration."
Michael Finke hit the two free throws the Chargers were awarded and, after taking the ball out of bounds, Devin Carter scored on a penetration move to the basket.
"We kept our composure," Lavin said. "In a cross-town rivalry, things can happen and it can cost you. That was a four-point swing."
Phillip Wright, held scoreless the first 20 minutes, scored 10 of his team-high 14 points for the Chargers in the final 5:51. Alexander and Finke each had 11 points. Carter hit 5 of 17 shots against the school he played for last year, and totaled 10 points.
Michael Franklin came off the bench to lead Urbana with 17 points and eight rebounds. McKinley hit 14 points, including two of the Tigers' three three-pointers.
"This was the most exciting win we've had in a long time, especially for where it is in the season," Lavin said. "It seemed like we were losing almost the whole game, but we stuck together."
Both teams played close to error-free ball. Centennial committed four turnovers the final three periods while Urbana had five during the same 24-minute stretch.
The Chargers have little time to relax. The team returns to Rantoul on Tuesday night to take on top-seeded Rantoul.
"It'll be a packed house," Alexander said, "but we will be ready."